Woodside High School’s principal David Reilly describes 17 year-old Vishal Singh as being “caught between two worlds — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.” Vishal is the focal point of a New York Times front page story about digital distraction and teens.
The problem does not lie with Vishal. Kids are not caught between two worlds. They have been catapulted into the 21st century with the flood of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Schools, on the other hand, have not yet figured out how to move forward with technology as learning tools to heighten student engagement, and deepen the learning experience for students. Schools are “caught between two worlds” — the one that kids are living 24/7 online, and the factory model school structure that Sir Ken Robinson explains so clearly.
The key question for schools to ponder is how will technology deepen and further authenticate learning for students. It’s not a matter of schools better start figuring out how to use technology — the technology for technology’s sake – or they will lose students like Vishal. That’s a short-sighted and artificial approach to thinking about the role technology needs to play in schools.
Creating new courses, like the digital audio recording class introduced at Woodside, is a step toward capturing student interest. However, at the end of the Times article, an English teacher at Woodside shares her frustration with her students and her inability to get them to read 30 pages of a book for homework. So, to address this shortcoming, she engages in a read aloud of the book in class, “because students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.” She’s using old methods to teach students who are thinking in new ways. She could instead have students create character Facebook pages, or use chat tools like Today’s Meet to approach class discussion in a different way to facilitate greater student-student dialogue about text. Or, better yet, she could ask her students about ways that they would like to engage with text using different technology tools.
The virtue of moving to new models in schools, in the form of one to one laptop or tablet programs, is that it accelerates thinking within the school community about ways to leverage technology to deepen and differentiate student learning. Also, schools eventually want to reach the point where teachers cannot begin to think about lesson design without technology. Woodside is not there yet.
I was talking with a teacher who is using clickers in his math classroom, and he beamed with excitement about student engagement. He also shared that students are now beginning to ask why other teachers and classes are not using clickers. The kids can become the catalysts for innovation, and they can become the engines for change in schools, if schools and teachers can remain open to their ideas.