Saturday, September 1, 2012

Technology Shift: Relationships, Schools, and Parenting

In one of my current classes at UNI called “Technology and Education” taught by Dr. John Solis (@drsolis) we are reading a book by Jane Healy titled “Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds – and What We Can Do About It.”  So far this reading has been engaging, interesting, and overall a very good learning experience.  It has opened my eyes to a number of issues and holes within the current thinking regarding students, families, research, and the overall push to include technology into our schools.  Dr. Healy really pushes back on the educational technology norms, even though our copy was published in 1999.  Although some of the data is outdated, it still provides a solid foundation to consider the impact technology has had on our society and school settings.  In fact, in class we are currently having online discussions about some of the impacts we have seen firsthand.  I want to add to that discussion and provide some of my first comments on this text throughout this post.  

First of all, technology has a huge potential to alter the adult-child balance of power as we have known it.  Potential means something that is not yet realized.  It is an opportunity.  Technology has the opportunity to make huge strides in a number of areas of our daily lives.  In fact, earlier this week I had a discussion with a new parent and co-workers of mine.  He was remarking that by the time his daughter was old enough to have a cell phone he predicted that the phone would contain everything from her wallet, home security system, coupons, credit cards, and way more.  I mentioned to him that with the addition of iOS 6 from Apple this fall some of these changes will be appearing – long before his daughter will ever walk much less own a cell phone.  However, I think we can all agree that technology on the whole is a game changer and especially in education.  In fact, Dr. Healy does believe that using technology can be successful in an educational setting, but that it is “not automatic, inexpensive, or attained without a great deal of thought and effort” (22).  I totally agree with her.  We all have seen the new stories of the most recent school district to implement a 1:1 Program and it shows wonderful pictures of students receiving bright, shiny devices.  However, how many people are asking the hard questions about how these devices are being implemented, what the students are really learning, and how the addition of these devices will transform the classrooms?  My guess is that there are not enough people like that in our communities.  

Technology, as defined by Dr. Healy, is “any tool or medium that helps people accomplish tasks or produce products more efficiently” (30).  Not only does technology bring about a huge potential to transform our daily lives, but it will also alter the adult-child balance of power.  Traditionally our parents have taught us just about everything we know from changing the oil in our cars, planting vegetables in our gardens, and baking a cake.  Nothing really came along that kids could do better or more effectively than our parents until technology, and specifically computers, came on the scene.  Since then kids have been teaching their parents a new skill – using the computer, Internet, cell phone, and just about everything technological.  I still remember my dad introducing me to MS-DOS prompt and the ins and outs of his Leading Edge computer.  It was a fantastic first computer, but by the time our family got a second computer I was teaching my dad things that he did not know about the technology.  Even today I still receive phone calls from him about how to navigate around his Mac, where the toolbox is in MS Office, and how to print photos from iPhoto.  He is a great learner, but the teacher is his son.  Does this situation remind anyone of their own lives?  Technology has altered the balance of power in parent-child and also adult-child relationships.  Recently iPads were rolled out to sixth grade students in Basehor, Kansas.  One teacher remarked in this article about on the relationship the iPads have created:  “Technology fits perfectly with their lives...and they have delighted in teaching others including the teachers.”  Today more and more children are teaching their parents skills on the computer.  They pick it up quicker, are more efficient, and by in large are happy to assist clueless appearing adults with a technology task.  I firmly believe that technology not only has the potential, but that it has changed the balance of power in our relationships with children.

Furthermore, the addition of technology into our schools has also changed the balance of power between students and teachers.  Now our teachers are taught by our students.  When was the last time a second grader assisted you with turning on the SMART Board or troubleshooting a YouTube issue?  Believe me it happens more frequently than it ever did before.  I think all technology directors have those students within their schools that have more experience with scripting, coding, and computers than they do.  The question is if they are creating a network that competes with their skills or if they invite them into the fold.  But we need to be cautious that the addition of technology into our schools means that it is a good thing.  Dr. Healy has taught me that much so far in the three chapters I have read.  We need to be cautiously optimistic.  Take for instance another quote from the Kansas article where the teacher also commented on the effectiveness of the 1:1 Program.  He says, “The students with the iPads seem to be more focused in class...‘They’re quieter.’”  Just because students are quiet does not mean that they are engaged or that they are learning something beneficial from their iPads.  I have seen time and time again a technology that has been introduced into the classroom that does not appear to have a good reason for existing there.  Instead, the teacher wanted to “try something out.”  We cannot continue to allow our instructors to add technology into our classrooms if it does not directly benefit our students.  They see right through it every time.  More intriguing to me is the fact that our students end up bailing out our teachers when the thing they wanted to try out backfires, messes up, or does not work properly.  The balance of power between our students and teachers, just like our children and parents, has changed as a result of technology.

Technology continues to change the schooling as we know it.  This is a huge topic to consider and one that Dr. Healy does a great job of in her book.  I did want to bring a few additional thoughts to the table on this subject.  One, if technology is effectively and appropriately integrated into the curriculum it can create dramatic changes.  Take for instance a recent blog post on CNN’s Schools of Thought about flipping classrooms where Stacy Roshan says, “Using technology has allowed me to bring compassion back into an otherwise overly stressful classroom environment. The flipped classroom has transformed the relationships that I am able to build with my students, and has made class time incredibly more pleasant for everyone. Quite simply, the flipped classroom has allowed me to create a calm, inspiring environment where students can learn, thrive and feel supported, which is truly a magnificent feeling.”  Technology can have a truly magical impact on our students’ learning.  Second, teachers need to consider the role they now play in our schools.  No longer can they be the “sage on the stage,” but instead they need to fulfill a number of roles.  In Dr. Healy's text she notes that "Many educators think traditional roles must change because today's students are increasingly difficult to teach" (40).  However, only a few paragraphs later she interviews a middle-school teacher who firmly believes that computers will "'force a change in the way we all do school'" (40).  In fact, a recent “Mind/Shift” blog titled “Understanding Learning Analytics and Student Data” captured the many roles teachers need to or should be embracing in our classrooms today.  In a very easy to understand graphic chart they discuss the three roles of facilitator, analyst, and instructor that a teacher needs to fulfill.  More often than not we are still being instructors and not the other two.  We need to put our primary notions, pride, and to some degree former teaching aside and embrace the new normal.  Our students learn in different ways and we need to adapt our instructional methods and furthermore our roles to match them.  Third, the role of technology in our classrooms needs to be reframed.  Are we using a computer strictly as a substitution for a typewriter?  Is it just a glorified piece of paper and a pencil?  If that is the case why are we using it?  Dr. Puentedura has some great research out there on technology integration called “The SAMR Model.”  In it he considers how technology can be used in two main categories and two sub categories.  These are using technology to enhance (substitution or augmentation) or to transform (modification or redefinition).  His thinking and work has been fundamental in reframing how we think about technology and technology at The FAIR School.  I strongly recommend anyone interested in technology integration to review his work.  Technology continues to change the way we as educators teach and how we interact with our students on a daily basis.  

With the addition of new technology and the shift of balance from adults to kids, parents should not yield any power to their media-saturated children.  Dr. Healy notes in her book that “A major problem was that few knew how to support their child’s use of the technology and allowed children unlimited and unsupervised computer use” (21).  Has anyone else ever seen this before?  Personally, I cannot tell you how many times I get phone calls from concerned parents that want me, as the technology director, to lock down their child’s computer and protect them from Facebook, YouTube, or other late night distractions.  I kindly listen to their issues, take the computer from the child, and then comes the hard part – I have to explain to the student why their parent wants the computer to only exist at school.  I honestly cannot lie to them about the shortfalls at home, and more often than not they understand, but it makes me consider the parenting going on at home.  I just wish that more often than not a parent would be the parent and take matters into their own hands.  They are in charge of all things within their home, which includes the school owned computer.  If they do not like the way it is being used, then take it.  It is that simple some times.  An interesting shift has occurred in parents' mindset though.  According to recent research posted in a recent CNN article, titled "Why Parents Should Educate Their Kids About Tech," 70% of parents believe schools should do more to educate their children about online safety.  Maybe it is the schools' responsibility, but then again maybe it is the parents' responsibility.  Either way it is a point of contention moving forward.  However, if a parent wants some more protection from the media-saturated culture that children live in today there are a few suggested they might take.  First, parents can use a wonderful application built into every Mac called “Parental Controls.”  In this blog post they can learn how to set up time limits, lock down the computer so that their child does not go to certain web sites, or have other permissions to access files on the computer.  Second, parents can turn on their content filtering solution at home.  Most wireless routers these days come with a built in content filter that will allow parents to monitor and block certain web sites at home.  Parents need to read up, turn on, and then begin to protect their families in this way.  Third, parents can also enroll their home Internet into a content filtering solution such as OpenDNS.  At my home, even though we do not have any children, we still use this solution to protect ourselves from unwanted content and it makes our Internet faster as well.  Fourth, parents need to make sure that they do not yield any power to the children by setting clear boundaries.  Research posted on Parent Further indicated that kids who do not have boundaries with technology: “Have trouble sleeping and get less sleep, Exercise less and are more prone to obesity, Do less homework, Read less, Spend less time with their families, and Have a harder time making good decisions.”  Therefore, it is very important that parents create technology boundaries with their children.  Fifth and finally, parents need to remember an important point from Dr. Healy: “Your kid may be teaching you about the machine, but you are still in charge of teaching things that are far more important!” (42).  Parents, you are in charge at home.  Please take charge of the situation and do not give any power to your media-saturated children.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Do you agree or disagree?  Please leave your comments below!