Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Break the Ban Debate

Barry Bachenheimer over at the  A Plethora of Technology blog challenged me to push back on his response to my latest post about breaking the ban and giving students the freedom to learn. You might want to take a look at that post and comments first.  When I get comments like this, my hope is that they’re asked because of a genuine desire to have thinking pushed. I hope I’m right because there’s a whole lot of mind shifting that needs to happen for kids to be allowed to have the freedom to succeed in the 21st century.

To follow is Barry’s comment, with my responses embedded.  

First, let me begin by saying that in theory, I agree that we should have learner freedoms to learn as they want and schools should provide all the resources needed.

With that said, I don't think it is an simple as flipping a switch and letting kids use their cell phones, laptops, open sites, etc. any time they want to.

1. As Patrick said above, bandwidth. Not just the tech bandwidth, but the human bandwidth as well. I believe in teaching students how to use the tools in an ethical and responsible way. Do we have the staff and the training (not theoretical, but in reality) who have the skills and time to immerse this into the classroom?

Response: As one of my blog contributors Peter Kent says, “Teachers need to get over the PD excuse.” Read this for more on that. And, the reality is, kids don’t need to teachers to know how to use the tech.  The teachers need to get out the way and let kids use the tools they love to meet their learning goals.  Empower the students to own the learning and stop trying to dictate the tools they need to do it. The reality is kids not need teachers can develop policies for acceptable use when it comes to tech. Jason Suter and other teachers have had great success with this. Here’s an example.

2. I believe that part of what school is should be "coercing" kids into being exposed to things they would not choose if left to their own devices. If on their own, kids would choose ESPN, Facebook, and video games. Very few, if any would choose Shakespeare, Calculus, and Advanced Physics. Part of the mission of school is exposing them to this so they know what (or what not) to study when they get older.

Response: WTF? Really?  You think we need to coerce kids to expose them to things?  And, why must these things be crap like algebra and calculus most of us will never use or Shakespeare who many of us could care less about.  It may be important to some people, but for others it’s the reason we hated math and English.  We spend all of elementary school exposing kids to stuff.  We don’t need more of the same in a secondary education. When we overexpose kids, what we end up doing is getting students that know.  I HATE MATH. Or worse, as the movie RACE TO NOWHERE reveals, we get kids with stress, anxiety, stomach pains, or worse, they end up dropping out or even committing suicide as a result of being forced to do well in subjects that they’re just not good at or don’t care about.  

So, what if we let kids spend more time on ESPN, Facebook and video games???  Well, my cousin was a sports fanatic.  His dad had a sports memorabilia business.  He watched ESPN and the like all the time.  His parents embraced that.  He got in on the ground floor of College Sports Network which I believe was recently purchased by ESPN and he’s still there.  Say they loved social media and were on it all the time.  Maybe they’d do what Rahaf Harfoush did and intern as a social media advisor on the presidential campaign.  What if they loved video games like Aaron Iba did? His school psychology report identifies him as a multiple problem child who acts if nothing in the world matters besides video games. Google just paid Aaron 10 million bucks and gave him a full time job as a result of an online app he made.  His favorite year in school was as a fifth grade when his teacher let him sit in the back of the room with the computer all day. Everyday.  

3. They are still kids. As a parent, as much as I believe in letting my kids self-explore and have access, they are still kids and lack self control and make ill-informed or poor decisions. I don't think a lot of kids (let alone adults) have the self control NOT to be distracted by many of the tools that are "banned". I was at a PD conference recently where the teachers (adults) were not listening to the speaker and instead were playing on their phones, surfing the web, and shopping. If educated adults can't control themselves, how can we hope kids to?

Response: I know a whole lotta parents and children who’d be really pissed at a statement like that.  They’d push back and say, kids don’t have self control because school doesn’t give them an opportunity to have it.  They tell them what to learn, shuffle them from class to class, tell them when they can talk and who they can talk to.  But if we gave them more ownership over their time and their learning they’d be amazed at what kids could do.  

I had the pleasure of listening to Sandra Dodd last night who brilliantly explains just how successful her more peaceful approach to parenting can be. I asked her about how she feels about screentime for kids. Her answer went something like this:
How can controlling someone else teach them *self*-control? She has three children herself and several other parents in the room have children who they empower to make their own decisions.  They explain that the end result of not limiting screen time is that my kids learn to listen to *their own* inner guidance about how much is "too much". They are learning what *they* enjoy, not what others think they should enjoy.

This is a much talked about issue.  Recently when listening to This American Life on NPR it was interesting to hear what happened at the Brooklyn Free School when kids were empowered to determine how much screen time they should have.  Guess what? The kids figured out how to use technology respectfully and responsibly. 

This is another example that just came in to my Facebook feed from a Librarian who helped break the ban on social media in her school.  Students use Facebook freely.  Here's what they do with it when given the trust and freedom to learn.
Facebook Group  as Collaborative Research Log from michelle luhtala on Vimeo.

As far as adults not listening to a speaker at a conference, who cares?  The audience members were voting with their attention.  Maybe the speaker sucked.  Maybe s/he wasn’t engaging.  Maybe the audience just didn’t care what the speaker had to say. Maybe the speaker was great for some and not for others.  Perhaps some of them were like me listening to the speaker and capturing and Tweeting great thoughts and ideas, making connections, and later writing an article to share with a wider audience.  

When I speak I have the entire audience get out their cell phones.  My presentations are interactive.  I talk to my audience through their responses.  They have their technology out.  We think outside the ban.  They focus.  It’s great.

At my tech professional development sessions we have a no ban zone.  At many sessions we ask teachers to bring their students with them.  They have computers, phones, video cameras, smart pens etc.  They are doing fun work.  Creating, exploring developing.  When all this tech isn’t taboo and people are given freedom, you’d be amazed how the self control follows.

4. I am all for innovation. I think the tools should be available for teacher discretionary use. If they want to use FB or cell phones for a lesson or unit- great. But it shouldn't be open access, all the time. Give TEACHERS the power to control student access based on their needs and skill.

Response:  Ugh, when I hear teachers say things like “Give teachers the power to control students” it makes my skin crawl.  Why not give students the power to develop self-control.  Why not let students own the learning and use the tools they want to use.  Why make it the teachers discretion when we all know the kids are usually more likely to know the best tool to use.  Give up control, you might just be lucky enough to discover what happens when students own the learning like Keith Ferrel explains in this post.

5. Economic realities. I wish we had unlimited funds. Now with a 2% cap in NJ, hard choices need to be made. It is a hard sell to the public (who 100% fund our schools) to say that class sizes are going up and we are letting teachers go, but we are buying laptops and hiring support technicians.

Response: Don’t buy more tech.  Let students use their own tech.  For students who don’t have tech, help them figure out ways to get it.  Options are endless.  Write this sentence. "Kid needs your old technology."  Post on Craigslist.  Post on Facebook.  Post on Twitter. Post at the supermarket. Post at a fancy car dealership. A student I know just did this and got a laptop. I did this and got a computer lab DONATED. Then I got 50,000 in books DONATED. Let kids and their teachers take ownership and agency over getting what they don’t have. We need to stop always looking for others to give us what we want and need. When we allow students to use their own learning devices, you suddenly have a whole school of technicians because they have ownership over their devices in sickness and in health.  When they break, they fix it or replace it.  

6. Educating parents and community. People "know" school as they were educated. Not that it is right, b/c it isn't...but that is what they know. Look no further than the current rhetoric of what a "bad" teacher is. Most likely that impression is not based on skill or results but on how a teacher made you or your child feel. The public needs to be educated on what 21st century needs are...and businesses don’t seem to be pressuring schools to change their ways.
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