Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Standing in the Way of Technology

My school uses Google Apps for Education, a wonderful service that not only provides us with a Gmail-based email system, but also affords us many other Google tools such as documents and calendar which we find quite useful in a school setting. As many of you know, one feature of Gmail is gchat, whereby you can have a live chat (or even a video chat) on your Gmail screen while you conduct other business.

For one reason or another, our school has disabled chat for students (one feature of the education module of Google is that you can pick which applications are available). After the initial complaining about this, my 4th grade daughter came home one day and announced that she needed the computer at a certain time, because she and her friends were having a chat. But isn't chat disabled, we asked (although I knew what the answer would be)? She replied that they had figured out that it is possible to create a Google document and have a chat within the document - a wonderful tool that was created to allow people to collaborate on a document and talk about it as they create it. For my daughter and her friends, this was simply an easily-discovered and impossible to shut down loophole around attempts to squash their abilities to communicate in the way that they wanted to.

Now to the picture shown above. Most of you recognize it as the famous picture from the Tianemen Square demonstrations in China in 1989, when one brave individual momentarily stood up to an entire column of Chinese tanks as a show of protest against the Communist government. What is often unsaid about this picture is that this student's victory was short-lived, as the government eventually quelled the demonstrations and the regime lives on over two decades later.

To my mind, the tanks are our children and students using technology, and the lone student is anyone who tried to get in their way. We may succeed in making a rule here or disabling an application there, but they are more resourceful and far quicker than we perhaps give them credit for, and there is no way that they will lose this battle.

This has tremendous implications for schools and teachers. When we talk about technology in schools, often we talk about certain applications used in computer classes, or about policies restricting cell phones or laptops in class. If we are truly in the business of educating students, then doesn't it make more sense to teach them the responsible way to use these tools? Yes, if we are boring, they will look for distractions, and electronic devices are great distractions. But wouldn't it be so much better for everyone if our classes were not only interesting, but found a way to co-opt these tools (cellphones included!) so that our students wanted to be engaged? Do we ban Facebook in school? If so- why? At a certain age our students all have FB accounts, and by keeping it completely out of the school environment we are losing an opportunity to teach them how to use it responsibly. Do you think that lecturing them about the dangers of FB really resonates with everyone? With anyone?

There is so much more to say on this topic, and much is being written in many corners - in the world of general education, as well as in all parts of the religious spectrum - about how to properly incorporate the tidal wave of new technology which is developing faster than we can find ways to deal with it. I will blog further about some of the details in the future. For now, decide if you want to be in the tank, or if you want to be that student who looked like a hero for a moment, but ultimately lost the war.

1 comment:

Tech Rav said...

Well done! I wrote a similar blog posting recently on children in a digital age that you can read here: http://torahmusings.com/2011/04/children-in-a-digital-age/ I was thinking of how kids could use Google Docs as their social networking platform. In my posting, I discuss how younger children are using Google Buzz which is embedded into Gmail for social networking when they are prevented from using Facebook. As you said, kids are resourceful and will find a way to do things that are important to them. The challenge for us is not to try to figure out new ways to block them but rather to teach them how to use these platforms responsibly.