Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Yes and No to Technology

For me the question – should we have technology in schools? – is an unconditional yes.  We have, at our fingertips, the capacity to personalize, differentiate, support in “just-in-time” ways; to collect, organize and share the information we need exactly when we need it; to spark and sustain curiosity by bringing into the classroom the capacity to follow any question to the greatest depths known to man.

People ask continually – But what about slow, deep, contemplative thought?  What about exercise and just “going outside” to play?  What about community and teamwork?

First, I can think of at least ten ways I could use technology in service of all those goals in a classroom, even the “going outside” part.  Here’s one:  research the effect of nature on the brain – we all need to know why we should do what someone else tells us is “good for us” – and then use a tracking program like to do an experiment to see if the classroom community experiences a difference in learning by spending more time outside.

But more important, we can say no.  Right now we’ll use a pen, a book, our physical senses, conversation only, a silent space.  Just because we have technology doesn’t mean that it must be constantly on or used endlessly.

It is similar, I think, to the grave fears over the last decades about television.  Is TV good or bad?  Does TV harm us? TV is a mode of entertainment.  The only thing new is that it is instant and in our homes.  Parents can limit TV for children; we can limit it for ourselves.  And we ought to.  The overuse of media by children is the decision of adults who struggle to say no to their own desire for peace, quiet, ease (or, because we do not yet have effective, affordable child care, they cannot supervise their children. As a society, we have decided that other things are more important.)

If only it weren’t so hard! Previously, we did not have to set internal limits to our entertainment.  They were limited by access – the carnival passing through the village, for example.  Now, entertainment is in our pocket.  We have to learn how to say no.  And this “no” extends, among other newly abundant and easy things: buying what we can’t afford in a credit-easy world, abusing our bodies through excess food and sloth in a world of fast food and remote controls, and destroying our planet when pre-packaged and throw away are everywhere, instant, and so very very easy.

Our children will live in - have always lived in - an instant world – one where they can make a decision to publically shame and humiliate someone they don’t understand; where they can access pornography and violence with a click; where they are continually inundated with requests to purchase the next best thing.  It is also a world where they can instantly connect with the knowledge of the world and our global neighbours, where they can have a say on important issues and become active citizens.

We do not serve them by putting them in technology-free schools.  We serve them by teaching them (I’m not really sure how, but probably through modelling, through strategies, through positive experiences, through actively engaging them in conversations about decision-making and providing a framework of values against which to make those decisions) to find ways to say NO to excesses that harm us and hurt our neighbours and to say YES to the power, at their fingertips, to do good.

I hope they are better at it than we are.  Our future depends upon it.

Yes - From erix!'s photostream
No - From Mr Jaded's photostream

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Living Slow

I’ve been living Slow for a few days: slow cooking – cookies, pastries, all the trimmings for Christmas dinner – polishing, cleaning, wrapping presents, festive decorating – and then two perfect days of food and conversation, board games and laughter.

On Christmas Eve, after the dishes were done and the extra guests had left, my daughter and her husband sat with me for a bedtime recap of the day.  I don’t know, Katie said, if I can continue this tradition.  It is all so…much!   Katie is a doctor, her husband the CEO of a social media company; their lives are intense, fast-paced.  Katie is on call for the rest of the holidays; Ben has various meetings scheduled, emerging issues, new challenges.   They live in a beautiful condo downtown Vancouver, but all of us smile at the image of our Christmas clan – and trimmings – shoehorned into the space.

At first I thought, perhaps it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps these traditions are simply the continuation of “women’s work,” a kind of subjugation to kitchen that is no longer appropriate in this new world.  But by morning I had rethought.  Although it no doubt will have to continue differently – and it has to become the work of everyone – I’m pretty sure that this “women’s work” – slow, loving, knitting together of family and friends – is essential to continue.  I say work, because I’m pretty sure that what’s important is that it can’t be instant – a phone call to a caterer, let’s say.  I think what matters – and it matters now more than ever as the pace of living increases – is that it is Slow.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things I did this week that I didn’t even know about five years ago

  • Put together a Christmas Connections Listserv “cool links” email by adding content saved to my Delicious social bookmarking site .
  • Posted information about a new book in our DRC collection on our Facebook page.
  • Developed a Twitter workshop, including an online poll for choosing our discussion question.  
  • Helped a school team set up iPads. 
  • Helped a teacher set up a web camera to use as a document camera in her classroom.
  • Approved a post to a collaborative Posterous blog that I administer.
  • Posted a picture of a classroom strategy on a Pinterest bulletin board
  • Added an information flyer to our wiki.
  • Uploaded a video to youtube and then shared how to embed it on a classroom wiki.
  • Took videos of a student showcase of learning that I will edit (soon).
And then wrote about it here.

The question is - is it helpful for kids and teachers?  Or am I just creating more binders to gather digital dust and files that disappear into digital cabinets and “toys” that distract us for a while and then are shelved, too, never to be seen again?