What do you think? Are the people above engaged or distracted?
Truth is, I must have a hundred or more photos of teachers and students doing the same thing. Most of them were taken during a class period when they were supposedly “engaged” in creativity. Lately though, have you ever tried getting someone’s attention, make a succinct point about a thought you had, or point out an amazing thing you saw in the real world only to be told: “hang on,” ” just a sec,” or “one more minute,” while they took the necessary time to divert their eyes away from their screen to finally give you the attention you asked for? The caveat here would be that you then forgot what you were going to say, or the amazing thing you were going to show them- like a shooting star- is now gone. The moment is gone. Life has passed you by.
Staring into screens.
It’s an unfortunate necessity for a technology educator, and more-so for any teacher in a 1:1 device environment. Whether Chromebooks, iPads, Android tablets, BYOD- the need for looking into a screen only increases with more technological responsibility that any institution creates.
7 years ago, when the Web 2.0 movement was in full swing and educators from all over were discovering new and exciting web tools to use with their classrooms- the excitement was hard to bottle up. Every day there appeared more and more possibilities with technology use and creation- things like Wordle, Glogster, BrainPop– just to name a few. And when a new tool would die out and enter the dead pool- just like that- another one would spring up and take its place.
About three years ago- 1:1 computing devices (1 device per child), began skyrocketing in classroom use, and the hope for technology innovation and classroom creativity was ever so relevant.
And how about now? While even more schools adjust their budgets to buy devices for every student, and Technology Coordinators change their district titles to things like “Innovation Director” or “Instructional Innovation Facilitator,” let’s stop for a moment to think about just what kind of world we are creating.
In my last post about the connected educator movement, I showed some data shared by a Twitter executive which highlights the real hurdles we face with our progress connecting educators into the personal learning network movement. I think we’re making meager progress. Although I’m surrounded by people who are trying so hard, the data shows that we aren’t making the impact we thought we were. We’re doing a lot of talking to ourselves on Twitter chats and Google+ communities, and not enough to the educators who really need help.
Why is it so hard to connect educators?
While we as the “connected educators” see the future as a utopian world, where all teachers share their strategies freely, and learn from each other through this magic pipe we call the Internet- my curiosity about why other educators aren’t buying it, is starting to find a theory.
Time is probably the number one complaint I’ve heard from educators, over why nurturing their PLN is such a difficult thing. The most popular question I’ve ever received after doing a presentation or workshop on PLNs is “how do you have the time to do all of this ‘connecting?'”
Staring at screens is starting to become a “thing.” While I’ve previously thought that it was just a byproduct of our connected future, more and more I’m starting to see that the time we spend in front of a screen is starting to be viewed more and more like a burden, and in some cases a shackle, where all of your work, your entertainment, and your creativity is being bundled in front of a screen.
There’s no loss for irony that everything I write is on a screen, and in my relatively small home, I have multitudes of screens in various shapes and sizes.
Losing the human connection is a concern that I’m starting to see many educators grapple with. While it’s easier to send a chat to someone on Gmail, because it’s easier- doesn’t make the connection more valuable. Our frustration for helping to connect the world’s educators is caught between an unspoken vow some have taken to hold on to those human interactions, to force face-to-face connections, and to not let the world become one that just rests on the heels of an algorithm. There are people who truly value the human connection.
And sure, there’s those educators that just don’t want to learn something new, or be forced to change, or go to their unions when they are asked to do anything outside of their contracts, and who would never think of going to a professional development day that they weren’t paid to go to.
There are, however, educators out there that value human connection and value the connection to our environment- and they can’t be faulted for wanting to hold on to that.
Have we over-promised and under-delivered?
I wonder if we aren’t over-selling an innovative future, while at the same time putting our heads down so far into our screens- that we’ve virtually turned off many of those we wished to connect. Have the Innovation Directors of our world forgotten to look up? All the while- our students are modeling our look-down behavior, while the green grass is getting taller, shooting stars have lost their luster, and those trees are not getting climbed.
Social media savvy educator Tom Whitby wonders aloud why educators haven’t connected their “collaboration cars to the train.” Perhaps it’s not because the train isn’t awesome once you’re on it, but that the train is moving so fast you can’t see the trees, the forest, or the flowers when you’re there. Or smell the salty sea air. Do we really want our students to miss out on that?
Reconnecting The Connected Educator
There are numerous stories of technology impacting students in myriad positive ways, so we know there are benefits of being engaged in this way. We also know that connecting online can often simply be an open door that leads to more valuable physical engagement. I would argue, though, that the more minutes you stare into your screen- is one less minute staring into someones eyes, looking into the sky, or having biological experiences. I think that we’re currently losing that balance- and we really need to work to get it back. I don’t know that a one week “vacation” from tech is really the answer, but to have true balance, one needs to examine and connect physically with each other and the world every day. To lose that connection might not be worth all this innovation we’re selling.
Technology, with all its ease of connectivity, has other negatives- in that it can feel disingenuous. Do you remember the 50 or 100 people that wrote on your Facebook wall on your birthday, or are you most apt to remember the two people who actually called you? Or came over to your house? Or handed you a personalized gift? This is powerful data- and proof that meaningful connections can have an impact on teaching practice. How do we use this data to make our technology-rich schools ones with a higher connection to the environment, more valuable communications, and more valued learning experiences?
There is hope in youth.
Of all people, I’m looking at my own 10 year old child, who, without effort, eschews screens and actively pursues activities and experiences that are offline. While in my hope of hopes, one thinks a tech-savvy dad might rub off on her and she might take up computer coding, or software engineering, she, to this day would rather make duct tape bracelets, act in a play, or sing, than do anything on the computer.
Maybe she sees adulthood and adult work as a look-down experience. Maybe she sees us as not engaged. Do other kids see it this way?
No one will disagree that technology will have a big role in the future of our country or the human race. Maybe the key we seek to free us from our screens is the very technology that is currently causing us to miss life’s important moments.
What will it take for you to look up?
Image Credit: The Onion