The kids are alright
When Silicon Valley entrepreneurs innovated, moved fast and broke things, did that include the classroom? What began as a niche introduction to schools in the form of massive, vacuum tubed contraptions, turned into a supercomputer in every pocket and connected to other computers via nearly instantaneous networks.
While there are some teachers who praise the availability of information to their students in the classrooms, many teachers and professors have voiced their derision about the constant phone distraction and use in class.
For most people over the age of 20-something, technology in the classroom more likely meant that there was another classroom where the computers were kept; the computer lab.
Row after row of beige boxes would line the lengths of the room and once in a while, your teacher would let your class escape to the computer room to “do work” or “research,” if you had the internet. It was a distraction, but being so new to the internet in the 90s and early 2000s, there was little else to do but work with a word processor or check out a website overloaded with rotating flash animations. Our access to information was regulated, although not by design.
With the conquest of the office desk largely complete, computer evangelists turned their sights to the next largest market; education. Computer evangelists wove a passionate tale of improved grades, engagement, and excitement in learning to teachers and school administrators alike. With digital encyclopedias students could access information as fast they wanted. Eager to be proactive, administrators and teachers ate up the evangelists’ promises and quickly filled the spare classroom with beige boxes. What began as a trickle has turned into a deluge.
The reality of our situation is that not only do we have encyclopedias worth of information, we have endless reams of information that has proven to be a major issue, not only for students, but for adults and teachers alike. The problem of information overload is real enough to have warranted major headlines in the last few years.
Teachers who instruct their students to do research now have to contend with a huge number of websites that not only offer poor quality information but also outright lies and falsehoods on a scale greater than previously. It’s not that there are differing perspectives offered, it’s that facts are not often even agreed upon.
While technology is now ubiquitous to the classroom, that technology is not always the prepared technology belonging to the school, or it hasn’t been modified properly for use in the classroom. Too often students who use their own cellphones in class are subjected to the notifications of social media, games and apps that distract them from school work.
Regardless of how well they focus, even trying to ignore the buzz or audio alert from a phone is not enough to avoid having your attention undermined and your train of thought derailed, as demonstrated on an episode of CBC’s Marketplace, with both teens and adults.
It’s stunning to see how much interruption a single buzz or ring of a phone can cause someone trying to focus and do some work. There’s a strong argument to be made that students entrust their phone to their teacher until such time as they need their phone.
The iPads that are often used in classrooms lack fundamental software that makes them truly useful in a classroom setting. True, students can use Kahoot, web browsers, and productivity apps to complete classroom assignments. What’s missing is the control over an iPad that a teacher should be afforded, that they could push pertinent information to all of them at once or direct them to a passage in a text, or highlight something on screen, without taking away the interactivity or exploration benefits of iPads.
It should also be said that students at the university level are no more resistant to the effects of constant information access that elementary or high school students. How many of us have sat in a lecture, trying to take notes, but felt the familiar buzz of our phone only to pick it up and ignore the class? Or noticed the students with laptops open and, instead of a word processor, students have Youtube, or Facebook, or a game playing on screen instead of notes?
The truth is that we’re all susceptible to distraction. Whether you’re 80 and new to computers or 18 and grew up with the iPhone, we all crave information and attention. The teens of today are not necessarily in danger of becoming addicted to their phones, indeed each generation has their toy that they replace with more pressing activities as they grew older.
Teens today will do the same when the times comes. Truthfully, the kids are alright.