Friday, 9 November 2012

Does digital = distraction..?

A common gripe from teachers that are resistant to the growing 'intrusion' of digital technologies into their classrooms, is the notion that they lead to students being distracted from the task that they should be doing.
Multiple web browsers open and being flicked between, accessing games and other content that shouldn't be and the notion of students 'hiding' behind their laptop screens are all issues that have grown in prominence with the increasing usage of technology in classrooms. These seemingly ever-distracted students are driving many teachers to... well... distraction!

I think there are two big points that are related to this issue (and how to overcome it):

  1. Teachers, themselves, need to be 'taught' how to use these new technologies to improve learning - provide the professional support that will better-enable new initiatives (which are often naturally uncomfortable experiences... ) to achieve success.
  2. Teachers need to use their behaviour management skills and strategies, as they would when students were misusing other, more traditional forms of 'technology', such as a pencil they are doodling with, a page from their book they are making a paper plane with, or a sharpener that they are creating messy piles of pencil sharpenings with...

Yes, poorly planned and implemented technology initiatives can be expensive white elephants and even detrimental to learning, if students are using the devices inappropriately and teachers don't have the knowledge and skills to address this misuse, or utilise the benefits of these tools. There are no digital silver bullets.

I agree that students need to learn how to safely and effectively use these emerging technologies. We [generally] cannot simply 'drop in' the new technology and expect immediate improvement to student learning on the back of these new physical additions, alone. 
A recent experiment by the One Laptop Per Child program is a good counter-argument to this, however! It is probably notable, though, that there were no teachers involved in this project (!) - technology is a good amplifier of teaching, able to make good teaching better, but bad teaching worse... 

So, yes, we need to put some parameters and quality processes around the implementation of new technology initiatives, but the inevitable teething problems that come with significant change should be worked through rationally, rather than used as an excuse to revert back to 'the way we used to do things'...

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