Yup, it’s a fact. Or at least it’s what researchers from the Pew Internet & American Life Project are saying. Students who can’t resist checking their Facebook page while studying have lower GPAs. It seems digital technology is so distracting, today’s students are simply unable to study effectively.
I have no doubt technology is a distraction, but I also have no doubt it can be used to empower students in ways we never before dreamed of. This weekend, for example, a trio of former students popped into my classroom for a visit. Fully-plugged-in middle schoolers, one of them pulled out a cellphone and said, “Check out this movie we made!” I then spent the next fifteen minutes watching a mini crime drama unfold on the tiny screen. Of their own volition these kids has gone out and produced a short film using nothing more than their brains and a cellphone. Sure, it was kid level stuff, but there was no shortage of quality film-making technique. They shot their scenes from different angles, effectively used flashbacks and close-ups, and kept their dialogue and action focused on the film’s objective. I enjoyed it immensely, but what strikes me most is that they pursued this endeavor all on their own, merely because they had the technology to do so.
While technology may indeed get in the way of kids studying the three R’s, it can also be used to help them embrace them. I’m not a true techie, but I’ve embraced technology because it provides good teaching tools that engage learners. In my classroom kids use Twitter to post their learning objectives, cellphones to time themselves when practicing their math facts, webpages to build their portfolios, and Youtube to post their performances. Our classroom webpage, The Daily Platypus, also gives them access to homework sheets they may have forgotten at school, extra credit work, and opportunities to read and respond to instructionally-related questions, videos, and posts. Instead of being a distraction, these technologies are proving to be conducive to learning. The read aloud play scripts I write and teach with are powerful in themselves, but they take on a whole new dimension when coupled with technology.
Of course, this still doesn’t mean my students aren’t going to blow off their homework once in awhile and instead spend the evening chatting on Faceboook…or watching television…or going to football practice…or shooting mini-crime dramas on their cellphones. “Technology is not going to disappear from our world,” says journalist Larry Rosen, whose syndicated article covers the Pew Report. “…in fact, it is only going to get more appealing as screens become sharper, video becomes clearer, and touch screens become the norm, all of which attract our sensory system and beckon us to pay attention to them rather than schoolwork or the people in front of us.”
The challenge for teachers will be in figuring out how to take advantage. Visit The Daily Platypus to see some of the ways we’re utilizing technology to enhance learning, and if you haven’t tried recording a play, either as a podcast or Youtube video, I’d encourage it.