We are not digitally well…yet…and we never will be if we don’t start letting kids practice appropriate use in school

13 Feb

Very early this semester we were introduced to Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship as we began to ponder our major projects and what avenue we might explore to best guide a large part of our personal learning over the next four months. I was immediately drawn to one element in particular – Digital Health & Wellness and after a lot of deliberation, I was able to somewhat coherently outline what exactly I was hoping to accomplish in my first blog post back.

Since then, I have spent a lot of time reading, and sharing articles on Twitter having to do with all things related to Digital Health & Wellness.  I have tried to use #digitalwellness, and I am actually starting to see more and more things come up, so I am hoping this trend can continue! I have also tried to view all of our learning so far in class sessions as well as through reading others blogs and following #digcit and #eci832, through a lens of digital wellness, and trying to always connect back.

I am still mostly on the same track with the things I originally outlined that I wanted to complete for my major project.

  • A closer look at my own digital health and wellness. I don’t feel I lead a balanced lifestyle with digital technology. What would balance look like and how do I find it? I wrote one blog post so far about my own issues revolving quitting social media, and I plan to continue to write and reflect on this.What example am I setting as a teacher – and are we setting as adults and parents for our students? I also realize that my project and this specific portion relates to digital etiquette, which is another of Ribble’s elements and I begin to look at this area later in this post.
  • Survey/collect information on digital health and wellness from ECI&I 832 classmates, Twitter followers, and students. Is our technology affecting how we sleep? How we view our bodies? Do we feel “addicted” to our technology? Addicted to social media?
    I haven’t got here yet, but I still plan to do this!
  • A variety of online resources centered around teaching students about digital citizenship, specifically digital health and wellness such as Common Sense Education, and use these resources as a starting point to curate my own. I have been exploring and saving galore!
  • Develop a presentation/session on digital health and wellness for F. W. Johnson‘s Wellness Day in March which is a day dedicated to Grade 10 students and positively impacting and improving their overall well-being. I haven’t developed my presentation yet but am mulling over ideas. I want it to be based on building healthy social media and tech habits, vs. “scare” tactics on how their mental health is at risk. I am scheduled in for two presentation time slots! I just need to come up with a creative title for my session so kids want to sign up… any thoughts?

The one area I feel like I have shifted on in my major project is moving towards positive digital health, vs. highlighting all the ways our digital health is being affected negatively. I feel like I started off pretty strong with a mindset that we need to drastically improve our digital health, and that our students are experiencing difficulties in many areas of their lives because they are not digitally well. Not to say that I don’t believe this anymore–because I definitely do think many of us are not digitally well, but I do think there is a lot of hope…perhaps you could call it a “cure” for the sickness we are currently faced with.

I could give you, or quite easily you could find for yourself, a long list of articles stating the dire circumstances of our kids’ mental health currently (and trust me, I see this everyday in schools and it worries me as I wrote about last week), and how the rising rates of depression, anxiety, and self-image issues are explicitly linked to the rising rates of smartphones, social media, and technology in the hands of our youth. But instead of just scaring ourselves – like our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were scared of the the radio, the television and video games – and blaming this actually very new in the grand scheme of things technology – why are we not doing more to learn with our kids about it?

This leads me into the realization that although my project focuses on digital health and wellness, it also relates to one of the other 9 elements which is digital etiquette .

“We recognize inappropriate behavior when we see it, but before people use technology they do not learn digital etiquette (i.e., appropriate conduct). Many people feel uncomfortable talking to others about their digital etiquette. Often rules and regulations are created or the technology is simply banned to stop inappropriate use. It is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens in this new society.” (Ribble, 2017).

I believe digital etiquette is really one of the first areas we need to start teaching, modeling, and talking about in our schools and classrooms, and ultimately this will connect us to digital well-being. Banning cellphones seems to be the direction where fed up teachers and schools are heading, trying to engage students in learning, and disengage them from their phones. The Toronto Principal in the above article who just banned cellphones states the reason being “to minimize distractions in the classroom and reduce the inappropriate uses of the devices during the school day.” The grade 7 and 8 students can use them at lunch but there are ridiculous (in my mind) restrictions.  “…the rules will be: no social media, no texting, no taking or viewing photos and videos.” So…. playing candy crush is cool, but basically you cannot use your device for any of the other ways it is able to communicate with the world around you. I have so many problems with this.

Banning cellphones, is something I completely disagree with. Many teachers express their frustration with kids not being able to focus on the lesson, or getting their work done because they are so focused on their cellphone. Whether it is keeping up a snap-streak, chatting on Facebook messenger, or scrolling vines, they are evidently disengaged from class, and locked into  that device in their hand. There are a few issues at hand here  that connect to digital etiquette. Obviously, conversations need to be had between teachers and students about who/what/when/where/why they can be on their cellphones during those 60 minutes of class (and no, the answer shouldn’t be never). If we just starting taking kids phones away without setting clear guidelines, we shouldn’t be surprised if they get upset at us for doing so.

My refusal to take away a phone stems from the fact that that is a $500-$1000 (or even more) device that I have no business or desire to be responsible for. I don’t want it falling off my desk and having a screen shatter, or seeing anything (inadvertently or not) pop up on their screen that isn’t meant for my eyes. I would much rather ask a student to put their phone away in their pocket, or binder, if I am really concerned with their inappropriate usage of it at the time. If my phone cannot be out at all in a meeting, or in a graduate class, I would expect the person in charge to tell me that. I am a responsible adult (okay sometimes), and I feel like I possess proper digital etiquette skills that I know I could check my phone, reply to a message or email, or even take an important call during a meeting or class in a respectful manner, at an appropriate time. Teachers do this in staff meetings, heck teachers do this during the classes they are teaching. Because sometimes you need to reply or answer that call, and that is acceptable. We need to allow our kids to do the same.

Students will ultimately struggle with judgement and being able to know what needs to be replied to, versus what doesn’t need to be replied to at that very moment. Can they wait until you are done your lecture (please reflect on the amount of time you’re lecturing if you are…), or until you are done  an activity, or until you are done having a class discussion? Yes, it most likely can. But if they don’t begin to practice this appropriate use, how do we expect them to master it? We all know mastery of a skill (or a behavior) doesn’t happen without opportunities to try and try again, and we can expect students to start at a low level of acquisition, and with our help and guidance perhaps move to progressing, to meeting, to hopefully exceeding our expectations! We need to give them this chance.

We as teachers can not only talk about appropriate use and set out guidelines in our classrooms, but we can model it as well. My cellphone is either in my pocket, or on my desk at all times. I don’t lock it away – I’m not scared of it being stolen, nor am I uncomfortable with students seeing me check my phone, and *gasp* reply to a message or email. No, I am not going to do this mid-math example or during a workout in Phys.Ed, but I am going to do it at an appropriate time. And students need to see this, if they have any hope of beginning to understand appropriate use as we ween them off the idea and current reality of checking it every 5 seconds.

Someone in class (sorry I can’t remember!) had mentioned teachers in their building modelling digital etiquette and for example not walking down the hallways looking only at their phone, as many of our kids are. This is such a simple suggestion, but I think can totally be effective and is important for teachers to be aware of in creating a climate of appropriate use. It reminded me of this PSA that Luke had shared on Twitter a few weeks ago.

I know I am guilty of walking inside and outside of school at my phone, and could easily be one of these people in the video! I think this video appeals to kids with humor, but it also sends a serious message about the dangers of being glued to our phones not only when we are walking, but especially when we are driving. Texting and driving, Snapchatting and driving (seriously it’s crazy), scrolling Instragram and driving, really anything that has you looking at your phone screen is a huge distraction and relevant issues for not only all drivers, but especially today’s teens learning to drive.

I remember my parents being very worried about my  music being too loud to distract me, and when I got my license was also when they introduced the only “one friend” in the vehicle rule for new drivers in Saskatchewan. With all the distractions that can take place on the one little device that we probably don’t want to send our kids on the road without (in case of an emergency), it doesn’t matter how many people or how loud the music, the danger is right in their hands.

We have 5-6 hours a day with our students, and instead of treating that time as time that needs to be spent away from their phones, maybe we need to shift our mindset to time spent with their phones. No, not 6 hours on being glued to their phone screen, but 6 hours that we can help them begin to learn and understand appropriate use and etiquette. Cellphones, social media, and instant communication is here to stay, and it is only going to become more prevalent, more normal, and more engrained in the fabric of our students lives. We need to work towards helping them achieve mastery of appropriate use, just as we want them to achieve mastery of every other skill we teach.

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3 Responses to “We are not digitally well…yet…and we never will be if we don’t start letting kids practice appropriate use in school”

  1. jana_wlock February 13, 2018 at 11:32 pm #

    This might be my favourite blog post of yours yet! I found myself agreeing with each new idea you presented. Particularly, the idea that “we all know mastery of a skill (or a behavior) doesn’t happen without opportunities to try and try again, and we can expect students to start at a low level of acquisition, and with our help and guidance perhaps move to progressing, to meeting, to hopefully exceeding our expectations!” As an LRT, I support many students who require a lot of practice with new concepts before they are able to demonstrate growth. I would never tell a student, “you aren’t grasping these math concepts so we just won’t work on them anymore”. So why would we do the same when it comes to the teaching of digital citizenship?

    I also appreciated your honesty regarding your own personal cellphone use. It’s true that many adults have learned how to multi-task and differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate times to use their phones (and many who still need to gain some of these skills!) This is part of life, it’s the way of the world, and I certainly don’t see things going backwards in time, only forwards. More technology, more multi-tasking, more apps and forms of communication and social media platforms to engage with. Kids absolutely need to learn how to function in this type of technology-driven world, and that will happen through explicit teaching, modelling, and lots of practice. Connecting back to your previous blog post – it’s all about Techno Balance-ism, right?!

  2. Joe McGurran February 14, 2018 at 12:43 am #

    Fantastic blog! Like Jana, I found myself in agreement with a lot that you’ve said here.

    When you were talking about how schools, or classrooms, ban phones, it made me think about the classrooms I’ve seen and supported over the years. To be honest, it’s gotten to the point where it feels unnatural, instinctively wrong, to enforce blanket bans. Like telling a carpenter he’s not allowed to use his hammer.

    As you say, there will be hiccups and gaffes. Kids will make errors in judgements as they increase their proficiency with their mobile devices, and learn the etiquette that goes along with appropriate use. Yes, at times, this will be frustrating for both teachers and students. To me, that’s part and parcel of our kids learning how to use technology, and develop skills that will be essential for their participation in the economy. Jobs will require these skills, and we can’t just ban devices because we don’t really know what to do.

  3. jocelyncarr February 21, 2018 at 1:20 am #

    I love the idea of shifting to how to be more digitally healthy instead of the negative. I also am bad for walking with my phone out and I try to model good tech use for my students. I really like how you talk about them mastering this skill through practice and probably failure. If we are being honest I’ll bet most teachers would agree we haven’t mastered this skill either and it will continue to evolve.

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