Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mindful Technology Integration

As Concord moves toward a one student one device ratio, students, teachers and parents will need guidelines and strategies to harness the best aspects of technology, while minimizing the more unhealthy and distracting ones. 

I was the first Academic Director for Technology at The Fenn School in 1997 when many schools were just beginning to integrate technology into the classroom. I recall using social studies CD-Roms to augment my unit on the Oregon Trail and learning about the rich resources for curriculum development on the new frontier of the World Wide Web. My original research included Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital and Don Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital where there was as much enthusiasm in the promise of technology as well as warnings of the dangers and peril of it. As I drafted the first Technology Plan for Fenn, I realized that the complexities of the task in front of schools was only going to become more intense as the exponential rate of change in these technologies increased.

Fast forward 17 years and it has. Today the research continues to reveal similar promises and perils. The Concord Public Schools has a unified Technology Plan that continues to prepare Concord students for the digital world they will encounter post secondary school, both in college and the work force. With the increase in the digital devices and software, I believe the teachers will need continuous support and training on how to integrate this ever-changing technology. Learning must drive what technologies are incorporated rather than which devices to provide. Teachers need enough development time to learn not only how to utilize the technology themselves, but also new curriculum to make the inclusion appropriate.

Students face certain types of educational challenges if they are not trained to use it in productive and focused manners. In a recent article, Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus, it states, “The ubiquity of digital technology in all realms of life isn’t going away, but if students don’t learn how to concentrate and shut out distractions, research shows they’ll have a much harder time succeeding in almost every area.” Other research states that more rote curriculum may encourage students to go off task, attempting to unsuccessfully multi-task with their digital devices and the actual teaching in the classroom. Many say this multi-tasking is a myth for instead there is rapid task switching the distracts the students’ focus on learning tasks.

One research study states that as many as 50% of teens check their iPhones over 150 times a day, and just as many get less sleep than they need because they are computing late into the night. Both of these contribute to difficulty synthesizing and memorizing important material.

As Concord moves toward a one-student one device ratio, students, teachers and parents will need guidelines and strategies to harness the best aspects of this technology, while minimizing the more unhealthy and distracting ones. One option is a curriculum that integrates technology use into actual teaching on focus and mindfulness. If students are inspired and motivated to succeed in school, they may be just as inspired to learn how to moderate their technology use both in the classroom and when completing homework and studying. The more students who become aware of their distractibility and overuse of technology, the more they may be open to and desire mindfulness training to do just this.

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