I’m really excited to feature today’s guest post by Tanya Avrith, educational technology consultant and former teacher. As she describes below, she’s put in her classroom time and seen first-hand the way technology use has changed the way kids communicate and learn. As one of the brains behind the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s innovative Digital Citizenship Program, she is better positioned than most to argue for a thoughtful embrace of technology by schools.
During my last seven years as a teacher and consultant, I have borne witness to the technological digital shift in education. When I began my education career in 2005 at the tender age of 23, I had little idea what I was about to face. I was given an unheard of mixture of classes and was thrown to the sharks wearing my new heels and best “teacher” clothes. NaÏve and idealistic, nothing had prepared me for the challenges and incredible joys I would face in the classroom. Nor did I realize that a revolution in education and social media was under way.
Looking back to when I began teaching, I can now appreciate what was developing. It was at the very the beginning of what we’ve come to call the “Web 2.0” student generation. My students that year were not yet posting constant status updates on Facebook, nor were they tweeting, sharing videos on YouTube or bringing smartphones to class. Boy, were things about to change…
By my second year of teaching I had become the media teacher (along with a long list of other subjects) and was introduced (by a student of course) to Facebook, founded only a few years before. I still remember the first time I logged on. I was ignorant to the etiquette of status writing and posting pictures as well as privacy issues and how they could affect me later in my life. Like most of today’s first time users, I made many mistakes when using social media because I didn’t know any better.
As an educator or parent it is easy to forget how quickly things changed in those few years. From one day to the next, the way our students/children socialized and communicated was turned upside down. Teachers and administrators are still trying to figure out what their roles are when it comes to dealing with the use of social media, both in and out of the classroom. We are at a crossroads in education where we need to figure out how we should be dealing with the issues that arise from this new “digital” generation of students.
Where do we go from here? Do we ban? Block, filter, take away, confiscate. All adjectives used to describe the current policies in many schools. Early on, like many of my colleagues, I feared technology, and my knee-jerk reaction was to agree with this type of policy. Isn’t it human nature to try to repress the things we don’t understand?
The problem with this approach is that it does not work. It turns teachers and administrators into the “cell phone and Internet police.” We scour our classes and manage confiscated devices. We block everything on the Internet that we don’t want to deal with. We investigate, punish, give detentions, and spend many hours dealing with the issues that arise when things go wrong.
What are we really accomplishing with this approach? We are missing many opportunities that these complex devices could bring to the classroom. For example, many of our students have access to 3G networks on their smart phones where they are always connected. These students have the potential to have a computer, video/digital camera, access to the Internet, and online books at their fingertips… And what are we telling them to do? Put them away! The irony is that we find school boards discussing the need to find resources to put technology into those very same hands.
Do we educate?
What we do need is a coherent plan to teach digital citizenship in schools. Digital citizenship addresses the appropriate use of technology. It is not about the technology itself but rather about the effects that arise from its usage. It’s an interesting approach that focuses on teaching about the ethical usage of technology.
Many teachers admit that they feel intimidated with the use of technology in the classroom because they worry their students know more than they do. What is important to understand is that students may use the technology more, however, they are primarily using it to socialize and/or play games and do not always have the metacognitive skills to use it as a learning tool. Furthermore, they are not equipped with the understanding how to use the technology safely and appropriately. The teacher offers the wisdom of how to learn and the ethical direction needed to manage technology creatively and productively. We need to make the most of this symbiotic relationship between the teacher and student. Imagine the possibilities of partnering with our students to learn from each other.
We are not asking that teachers change what they are doing but rather adapt their teaching to include elements that are relevant to how our students are learning today. With digital citizenship education there are many educational opportunities that would not be possible if we continue to ban the technology in our schools.
What does digital citizenship eduction look like? Teaching about digital citizenship should not be viewed as an “add-on” but rather complement what is already being taught in the classroom. For example, a teacher who is introducing a research topic in class would discuss how to evaluate websites, and teach the students appropriate searching strategies. The teacher would also discuss copyright and how to properly share information. The Lester B. Pearson School Board DCP offers a curriculum for Digital Citizenship with many examples of what digital citizenship looks like in the classroom. A few great resources that address digital citizenship include:
- The Lester B. Pearson School Board DCP (Digital Citizenship Program) provides teachers with teachable topics that are age appropriate. It provides easily organized subject and grade level resources as well as resources for parents.
- Commonsense Media: An incredible resource for both educators and parents that has many resources that focus on digital citizenship.
- Digizen: Another great resource that provides interactive activities for students to learn more about digital citizenship.
- The door that is not locked: A bilingual Canadian resource great for parents, educators and students.
Tanya Avrith is a mother of two and a former high school teacher. Currently on maternity leave, she works for the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal, Quebec as an educational technology consultant with a focus on digital citizenship education. Tanya was one of the driving forces behind the development of the Digital Citizenship Program for the LBPSB. She also provides seminars on digital citizenship education and workshops on how to adapt the classroom to include various technology tools (iPads, 1:1 programs, SMARTboards…). Tanya holds a Masters Degree in Educational Technology from Concordia University.