When I first entered the world of teaching in 2000, scheduling time for the computer lab was a priority. There was only one lab, bandwidth was small, and though the world-wide-web was larger than I could imagine, it was like the universe, ever expanding. It was exciting to explore.
Over the last 18 years, the use of computers in the classroom has redefined instruction and many teachers have been forced to adapt to an everchanging educational world that impacts how they of develop, implement, and assess student learning experiences.
Twenty years ago, educators dreamed of a world where every student would have a personal laptop. Near-universal access to the internet would democratize knowledge in a way that learning became an outcome of access rather than the product of a student’s skill and will. That world is today’s classroom in many schools in the United states, where districts are pushing for a 1:1 student to device ratio. Now that all students have personal computers and near-universal access to knowledge (or will soon), it seems some people may be asking, what should we teach now?
The answer is simple, we teach that it’s okay to be human.
Educators try to establish correlations between motivation and engagement as it relates to students and content. When motivation and engagement are low, educators are trained to think that certain needs of the student may not being met. If these involve basic human needs (physiological needs) then learning probably won’t happen at all. The student may feel the need to feel connected, therefore, not being connected simply prevents the student from learning.
To put it another way, nomophobia (fear of being without a phone), addiction to games, communicating with others or watching the lives of others via social media rather than experiencing life itself are real things (Ciaccia 2017, Healy 2018, Lamotte 2017, and Tsukayama, 2016), and some educators suspect that they interfere with learning. Further, if we don’t give them latitude to explore their addictive traits or talk to them about what they may be feeling, imagine what might happen outside of the gates of the school where positive influences are not always available.
Students who come to school with a need to feel connected may not know how to act when they are disconnected. Feeling like a need is not being met or rather facing negative outcomes for having that need can and often does prevent the student from learning at an optimal level.
If a student is feeling anything close to a true addiction, they may be identifying coping mechanisms to act like they are fulfilling educational expectations while feeding their need to be connected.
For example, you may hear educators discourage students from taking their devices to their bedroom with them, because some many of us have seen students who sacrifice sleep for screen time.
It’s a good idea for educators to help students view devices (especially the smartphone) as a defining part of our identity as what we are not (artificial intelligence) and reinforcing what we are (human beings).
I encourage you to think about how these six things might contribute to your instructional tool kit to teach students that it is okay to be human.
1. Teach about digital addiction. Don’t be afraid to build reflection activities into your lesson plans that encourage students to talk about how they’ve been interacting with their devices. Reflection is a critical thinking skill.
2. Build in socializing activities. Right now, it seems more common for students to communicate via text or a social messaging app rather than by talking face to face. Reinforce the spoken language and the importance of body language through provocative topics. They may even identify a person they have something in common with and make a new friend.
3. Challenge students to disconnect. One of the most well-thought of activities that I know was planned by former colleague who challenged students to disconnect for an extended amount of time. This might encourage solitude. Students might explore and experience their world by accident. They may even find out they enjoy writing in journals, writing poems, or making artistic work.
4. Become a storyteller or find storytellers. When I was studying at the University of Kansas I was trying to find a way to include the work of Victor Villasenor in my curricular approach. Ironically, I watched a YouTube video in which he spoke of the power of stories and how people learn to be human through stories. People can tell stories, devices cannot. I have changed my teaching style to be more of a story teller and have invited my mom and dad in to my classroom to tell their stories. Storytellers encourage listening skills, they bring in an outside perspective, the experience allows students to watch their teacher model respect toward other adults, and it often reinforces cultural identity.
5. Let students tell stories. Students have stories, they have a lot of stories. We often don’t have enough time to allow them to truly tell how they feel. The conundrum is that if students feel low motivation to experience life because of digital addiction, they cannot tell about how exploring things impacts their senses. First, challenge students to explore their world; then, empower them to express their stories. Expression can be done through the spoken words, written or visual arts, even using computer software to assist.
6. Take pictures of everything, save them, and print them. When I was young, I lost some close friends to untimely deaths, I wish I had more pictures with them. It’s hard for me to help others build meaning if I do not have pictures to help guide the story. Pictures might also help to bridge the gap between exploring, experiencing, and elaborating on the ultimate artform, ourselves. They may even become a cherished possession.
Please don’t read this as a piece that argues technology doesn’t belong in the classroom. Technology and connectivity, thus far, have done what they are supposed to, democratize knowledge. Now, we must teach about how to help students avoid using technology an excuse not to explore life. This begins with being honest about addictive behaviors but should also include how to use technology as an ally in writing one’s own story about what it means to be themselves.
Ciaccia, C. (2017). “Facebook, cocaine, opioids: How addictive is the social network?” Fox News. Retrieved October 10, 2018. Available: https://www.foxnews.com/tech/facebook-cocaine-opioids-how-addictive-is-the-social-network
Healy, M. (2018). “World Health Organization says video game addiction is a disease. Why American psychiatrists don’t.” Retrieved October 05, 2018. Available: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/world-health-organization-recognizes-a-new-form-of-addiction-gaming-disorder/2018/06/29/fb3eb2e2-74b3-11e8-805c-4b67019fcfe4_story.html?utm_term=.14284a4eabff
Lamotte, S. (2017). “Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain.” Retrieved October 01, 2018. Available: https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/30/health/smartphone-addiction-study/index.html
Tsukayama, H. (2016). “This dark side of the Internet is costing young people their jobs and social lives.” The Washington Post. Retrieved October 06, 2018. Available: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/for-many-young-americans-compulsive-internet-use-is-a-very-very-real-struggle/2016/05/20/be637a24-130d-11e6-8967-7ac733c56f12_story.html?utm_term=.7fb6af925128