I just (electronically) recieved our local high school’s newsletter – the welcome back to fall issue, where the administrators and the PTO lay out the calendar for the upcoming year, share the news and highlights, and inspire enthusiasm for the enriching academic year ahead. I scrolled through the pdf and felt a lurch of disappointment when I, once again, saw this familiar notification:
“Cell phones must be turned off and out of sight during the school day.” To me, this posture taken by our school district – and many other districts – is the perfect poster child for what’s wrong with education in U.S. Rather than embrace the technology that our students use every day of their lives, our schools opt to ban it. With all of their angst over dwindling technology budgets and insufficient computer access for students, they choose to ignore the computer appliance that just about every kid has in his or her pocket.
Today’s cell phones are more powerful than the first desktop computer that I owned. They are communication devices, cameras, and calculators all rolled into one handy package. But rather than embrace this readily available device, most public schools ban them – and set up elaborate enforcement rituals to support the policy. Cell phones are seen as a distraction, a disturbance, an evil that has no place in a learning environment.
And that’s just it – if our educational leadership persists in thinking of new media technology as a “distraction” it will be very difficult for us to move our educational system forward. Rather, educators should be leading the way – they should get inside this technology, figure out its unique affordances, and show our students how it can be used to extend their reach, connect to the world, and become life-long learners. I would like to see my kids’ teachers be a living demonstration of the appropriate use of technology.
Teachers and administrators in the Alamo Heights school district (in Austin, Texas) are taking just that approach. They invite students to bring their laptops, iPads, and cell phones to school. And they backed their decision with content-filtered, district-wide WIFI access. You can bet those those Alamo Heights teachers and administrators have quite a few really good ideas about how to put the technology tidal wave to work for them.
If you transplanted a classroom teacher from the 19th century into today’s classroom at our local high school, he or she would know exactly what to do. That 200 year-old teacher would feel right at home – desks in a row, chalkboard up at the front – get out your pencil and paper, time for the next lesson. Try that with a 19th century shop owner or business person – they would be lost, dazed and confused were they to be plopped down in a 2010 shop or a business.
Do we really want our children to figure out the best ways to leverage technology from their friends? Do we really want our children to conclude that all of that intriguing new media, all that connectivity, all of that learning power has no place at their school?