A teacher who argued in favor incorporating cell phones into classroom instruction in a 2010 Education Week essay rethinks that position in a new piece.
Writing in Ed Week about his emerging doubts, Kentucky high school teacher Paul Barnwell says, “While summarizing is a real skill, do we really want students to further fragment their thoughts and attention in this age of incessant digital distraction and stimuli with 140-character blurbs? Do we want students to spend even more time in front of a screen, bypassing opportunities to converse and collaborate face-to-face?”
Here is a short excerpt of Barnwell’s essay “Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools.”
A recent report by the Economic & Social Research Council refutes the notion that today’s youth, the “net generation,” is truly tech savvy. After interviewing and collecting data from 2000 first-year college students in Britain, researchers found that only 21.5 percent of students had blogged, and only 12.1 percent of students had used wikis. Too few students are familiar or engaged with these sorts of technologies that are structured to promote academic rigor; instead, they opt to use Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, most often as distractions from their studies rather than learning tools.
I’ve come to agree wholeheartedly with the study’s findings. Do many students you interact with know how to do much more than Tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube? Email is antiquated to students; after all, many kids are so used to fragmenting their thoughts that writing a substantial email is drudgery. Twitter is all the rage for teenagers and is a constant source and depository of mindless banter and instant gratification. Being tech savvy should include the ability to synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original. So how can we promote more thoughtful use of technology in schools?
Despite my shifting beliefs about the efficacy of certain technologies in the classroom, I am a long way from giving up on technology altogether—indeed, I currently teach a digital media and storytelling course. There is tremendous power and potential in what we can teach students with sound, image, and video-based projects.
If students can’t communicate face-to-face to conduct interviews or set up photo shoots, there is little point in placing a camera in their hands or a laptop at their desk. As educators, we must find a balance between screen time and “face” time.
But until I’m convinced that cell phone and social media applications truly support deep thinking, my students will keep their devices in their pockets and backpacks.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog