The Two Top Areas for Keeping Today’s Students Top Notch

This is the third guest post in a series running all week featuring guest edu bloggers. 

By Vicki Davis

Stock PhotoIn the NetGenEd™ project with Don Tapscott—students from my school and over 300 students from five countries are studying the future of technology. They are breaking down trends like Mobile Computing, Open Content, Electronic Books, Simple Augmented Reality, Gesture-based Computing, and Visual Data Analysis.  But who cares?

Aren't educators just sick and tired of change? Aren't we going to reach a point of stasis where we can kind of "hang out" a while?

Consistent Change Requires Consistent Learning

The only thing consistent in our technological landscape is change.  If you dig deeper into all of the trends listed above, you'll see that computing is integrating into our lives.  We will be able to put input into a computer with the gestures we make, flicks of the finger, eye movements, voice and even "skinput." Technologies will move into the walls that surround us in ways we're just beginning to comprehend.

Some think that the seeming slowdown in global economies means a slowdown in technology but it does not. The cheapening of all kinds of display devices from tiny mini-projectors that go into cell phones to "Window Walls" and wafer thin, flexible video screens and even displays in our glasses and contact lenses means that just about any surface can become a display device.  More than just display devices, the less expensive camera technologies coupled with improvements in motion sensing mean that the mouse and keyboard are no longer required input devices.

We are dealing with the convergence of technology into our surroundings. I tell my students that one day they will laugh about having a "computer lab" and point to the scenes from the early "Superman" movies as an example. Those movies show a world that is very "Zen" but that is highly computerized.  (Personally, I could do with far less cables.)

Professional Development Recommendation: Schools and teachers must integrate processes for learning about new technologies into their weekly habits by building a PLN (personal learning network). Mentoring groups and sharing through bookmarking and other methods should become part of what it means to be an educator.  Those who are consistent learners have no problem in an environment of consistent change!

Curricular Recommendation: Courses like the EAST Program (in Arkansas), Digiteen™ (full disclosure: I co-founded Digiteen) and other programs that encourage students and teachers to work together to innovate and improve their school should be implemented as methods to promote innovation.  Students should understand how to construct personal learning networks for their research projects to pull live information in to them.

Recommendation for Parents: Learn about technology. Sit down beside your child when they are using technology and find out what they are doing. Encourage their interests.  Never let technology be your child's sole domain—they need their parents to keep them safe and talk about what is happening online. You must be their filter and make sure they are safe and learn to adapt in your own life. Model ongoing learning—your child needs to see you innovate because it will be the lifeblood of their existence in tomorrow's industry. Set up your own RSS reader.

Open Up Communication to Improve Online Behavior

It is near the end of the school year and bandwidth always becomes a problem. Now that students can "watch TV" on their handhelds and laptops via the school Wi-Fi there are things I have to look for (and sometimes block). But as I tell my students, it comes back to behavior.  Are you on task? Is what you're doing of educational value?

The lines of "black and white" are permanently gray when it comes to devices. Devices, tablet PC's, handhelds and cameras are no longer "intrinsically entertainment" but indeed have some great applications for the classroom.

So, how do we monitor? How do we discipline?

When we have projects like Digiteen™, students research the trends in digital citizenship and create recommendations.  We discuss the appropriate uses of technology and use a lot of case studies from current news.  Students create an action project to educate others about digital citizenship at their school.  Out of this, students have a strong grasp of how to make fact-based decisions and advocate for good behavior on-line.

Research out of the U.K. shows that "where provision for e-safety was outstanding all used ‘managed’ systems to help pupils to become safe and responsible users of new technologies."

Students were not safe, however, where they were in a "locked-down" system.  Blocking everything may be a short-term solution to manage Internet risk but in the long-run, students are not as safe. Internet safety education in most schools is either being delivered in a one-time "scare tactic" assembly that causes a lot of buzz or doesn't change student behavior or is non-existent in most schools.  Until students are taken into social networks being used for educational purposes and learn the importance of privacy, not using IM speak (it leaves out those who have English as a second language) and how to behave online; they are going to continue to make mistakes that could be prevented.

Professional Development Recommendation: Engage teachers with students to learn about Digital Citizenship and then empower the teachers to share what they learn with other teachers. Create a "social space" for professional development for your teachers to learn how these websites work. Create a Facebook page and Twitter account for your school so that you can share and reach parents and volunteers with announcements.

Curricular Recommendations: Understanding the safe use of social media, media literacies, and digital citizenship is essential for every student - not just "vocational students" (since many schools only allow vocational students to have a technology course).  If you receive e-rate funds in the US, you are required to teach digital citizenship. (Microsoft has some great resources for this as well.) Make sure that you consistently demonstrate to students that online behavior has off-line consequences and that the school's on-line spaces are literally "part" of your school like a modular trailer parked in the parking lot would be!

Recommendation for Parents: Use social media like
Facebook and Twitter. Talk about incidents that you see on the news. Notice how your children use technology and openly discuss behaviors that may not be healthy for your child. (Addictive behaviors are particularly troubling and are causing children to lose sleep.) It is OK to charge cell phones and other electronics in the kitchen (so they don't text into the wee hours of the night) and have a "kill switch" for the Internet. (We turn ours off at 10 pm.)  Model a balanced lifestyle yourself including going "off the grid" when you're with your family. Children tend to do what they see their parents doing!

In Summary

Three years ago my flower beds in my back yard were impeccable.  Now, due to the rain and the fact that I've got teenagers, they are a mess.

Having leading technology in your school or home does not guarantee that you'll have it tomorrow.  Having a child who is safe online today does not mean they will be safe tomorrow.

In order to recover my yard, I've got a lot of work to do.  Then, after I get everything groomed, I'll have to consistently maintain the yard to keep it nice!

Likewise, schools that are "blocking everything" and have no digital citizenship education programs in place have a lot of work to do.  But once those programs are in place, schools must put in place ongoing "think tanks" that generate innovation and learning for both students and teachers.  We must re-think the model of technology education delivery from "someone at the state level writes the standards and three years later we implement it" to "we learn together and innovate as technology happens." Otherwise, you'll have an overgrown, obsolete mess!

We do not know where technology will go.  But we do know that those who will succeed will be adaptable in their technology knowledge and their ethical behavior with technology. These two areas are essential for not only creating well-educated students but a safe and healthy future for us all.

Vicki Davis blogs at the Cool Cat Teacher blog and is a teacher and mother of three in Camilla, Georgia.

Vicki Davis retains full rights to the content of this blog. Please contact Vicki Davis for permission to reuse this content in any way.

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Comments (5)

  1. MissCheska says:

    Well said! I especially loved the parent recommendations, and will be passing it on to friends and family. Just over the weekend, I was told by a teacher friend that he sees no educational value in social networking and that personal handhelds and devices have no place in class. Comments like that made me realize just how far we have to go with educational technology in the 21C, but the best way is to keep edifying parents, students, and colleagues and not get too upset!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Great ideas.  I recently attended a workshop for women in education, and the keynote speaker was discussin the importance of responsible digital citizenship.  She talked to faculty and leaders in the room about the responsibility schools have to educate their studenst about digital citizenship, and the necessity to utilize social media in education.

  3. Vicki Davis says:

    @MissCheska- May I send a "well said" right back to you!!  We cannot get too upset because change IS an emotional thing and many people do not like it. I just want to instill a willingness to change in my students and a desire for excellence  as well. It is tough (particularly this time of year in the US) to keep positive but I appreciate your thoughts!

    @Jennifer – We do all have a responsibility to educate our students, but it is like drivers education. Just because they go to driver’s ed doesn’t mean they will always be safe – but they will be SAFER. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be accident free but hopefully that less will have accidents.  Digital Citizenship is tough because there are so many ways and so many factors but we all must educate ourselves to be safer and wiser!

    Thank you both for commenting. It was an honor to be included here.

  4. Fred Deutsch says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. It seems to me that technologies will not only "move into the walls that surround us," but also push the walls outward, and eventually eliminate them.  In my mind I see these as the classroom walls, and eventually the entire schoolhouse building.

    Fred Deutsch

    Watertown, SD

  5. Vicki Davis says:

    @Fred – Certainly – if not eliminate the walls, I would say certainly REDEFINE the walls. I do think that students need private places where they are held accountable and allowed to "mess up" before they go out "in public."  And whether the walls are on-line spaces or local – it serves them well to have them.  Certainly they will be redefined.

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