Whilst kids’ online activity may be increasing, there’s no need to presume that it’s for the wrong reasons….
This week, OfCom has published accounts of how childrens’ use of online devices has yet again increased over the past couple of years. According to the findings 34% of children aged 3-4 own a mobile device and an overall 55% have regular access to one. These numbers can seem surprising when delivered in the way the Daily Mail approaches it (the somewhat overwrought headline of the 21st Nov: “Revealed, sinister truth of what your child watches online: Youngsters can outwit age filters to access dodgy chatrooms, online casinos and pirate sites featuring 18-rated films” is not exactly the most balanced account after all) but what the numbers don’t explain is the manner in which digital devices can be and are actually used.
This past week I’ve been into a couple of schools that both implement a zero tolerance approach to mobile phones across their sites. This restriction extended not just to the learners in the school but also to staff and visitors. In principle, restricting the use of devices is something I understand from a safeguarding point of view but adopting this approach feels somewhat finite and oddly rigid in a world populated with more mobile devices than people. Basically it imbues the notion of tech in schools as something less than savoury, something that needs to be eschewed rather than considered.
My opinion is that teaching with and about technology would be better served if we adopted the same approach that we do for sex education. In sex-ed, we teach about objective considerations in order to help contextualise safe practise later on. We understand that by involving learners in discussions about safe sex we are not only promoting health awareness and knowledge of our body’s innate functionality but also have a jumping off point from which to introduce groups to positive body image, LGBTQ issues, relationships, and consent. We don’t have the opportunity to do this if we ban all talk of it in the first place.
Essentially, tech needs to have the scrutiny that classroom use provides. If we’re not able or willing to employ and criticise hardware under the lens of effective teaching and learning practises, then we’re effectively asking young learners to navigate the online world without a compass. What would be a far more beneficial approach would be to make sure that we as teachers and parents are in a position to offer tech guidance and advice within a safe place. That way, we can far more easily integrate the use of a learner’s mobile phone into the lesson, say, rather than it being purely distractionary.
In order to help begin this integrative process, these following tips might be of use:
- Don’t presume all web content is bad web content
Despite what clickbait articles like those in the Daily Mail claim, the internet is not simply a den of villainy. The fact that the Mail themselves utilise the internet heavily in order to promote their own paper and myriad websites would at least highlight the hypocrisy of their message should this actually be the case. Instead, try to remember that as you may be using your mobile tablet to pay bills, seek personal or medical support, or simply find a recipe for the evening meal, learners may want to use one to help them find an answer to your question. Websites such as BBC bitesize, Phet physics simulations, and Geogebra provide excellent help to learners struggling to grasp difficult concepts. Have the learners tell you what places they are regularly using to seek help to their work and perhaps compile a list that you could then offer to others. This way, you can also ensure that they would have to justify anything that wasn‘t on this list afterwards should it appear inappropriate.
- Model good behaviour
Yes, there are websites out there that show content that may be inappropriate for younger people. But then, that’s why schools have firewalls. It’s not as if everything from the dark web is suddenly going to appear on screen during a lesson on fractions. To assume that it will is to demonstrate an unconscious position that the internet contains all manner of interesting things should the learners only be able to figure out a way to access it. It’s like being told that someone knows a secret but that they won’t tell you; it’ll only encourage you more to find out what it is. A better approach would be to show that there’s actually very little of that content out there and to use the internet and mobile devices for the matter of fact things. Treat it as you would a kitchen knife. We need to ensure it’s treated with respect but that it’s just an everyday object. You can’t really cook without one so we gradually and safely introduce knives into childrens’ abilities to prepare healthy meals. When it becomes second nature to use them, there is a lot less likelihood we’ll cut ourselves on them.
- Take an interest in their interests
If a learner is heavily involved in using Whats App or Snapchat, for instance, ask them what they’re using it for. Why is it better than Facebook or Twitter? How many of the people they know use it? By doing this not only can you potentially gain a bit of knowledge about some tech or app that you may not have previously had but also you can get a gauge on the things you might want to do a bit of reading up on. Check on the teaching blogs, sites like TES, and ask colleagues, parents or teachers about what they know about it. This way should you be able to find out that learners are only using it for ill, they can be offered alternatives. Should they be using it for working on joint assignments with friends however, you can promote this in a continued and positive manner. Demonstrating trust with learners and their tech use goes a very long way in successful use of tech in the classroom.
If you would like to learn more about what tech can do for you in helping you develop your teaching and learning skills you can see the work I’m involved with on twitter at @ianrmatt. My university work can be seen at www.bit.ly/phdbio. Always happy to discuss!