The Anti-Tech Ego

When my aunt asked me what I thought of her banning laptops, I scoffed.

“It’s just that the students aren’t listening,” she justified.

Visibly annoyed I replied that if the college students in her literature class weren’t going to listen to her with computers, they most certainly weren’t going to listen without them.

I had professors that tried this, too, all the way into my Ph.D. program. By banning tech, I assumed three things about these professors:

  1. Lack of confidence: “I’m not confident enough in my teaching to believe you would choose me over Facebook.”
  2. Lack of progress: “I don’t know how about this new fangled technology, so you shouldn’t either.”
  3. Lack of respect and trust: “I don’t believe that students are capable of multitasking and using technology educationally.”
  4. High ego: “This is my class, and students should pay attention to ME.”

Often, I tuned them out, did the bare minimum, and still tried to sneak in a text now and then. I replaced my computer with my most recent crochet project (keeping my hands busy helps me stay focused) and rolled my eyes on a regular basis.

Technology for Focus

I started bringing a laptop to class in 2002, my freshman year of university. It was heavy. There was no WiFi, so I was using it predominately for note-taking and the occasional game of Solitaire. The discovery of the laptop for note-taking was helpful for me.

By New York Zoological Society - Picture on Early Office Museum, Public Domain,

By New York Zoological Society – Picture on Early Office Museum, Public Domain,

I could write more, organize my thoughts easily, and I felt more focused. Regardless of the countless studies that handwriting notes capture knowledge better than typing, I have always felt that using the computer has helped me immensely. Originally, as a note-taking device, and later, as a way to quickly gather supplemental information.

Using the Distraction

I have long argued that we are long past changing our children’s’ distractible behaviors. The Amazing Power of Tech Breaks by Larry Rosen

My professors’ main mistake was assuming that by removing the distraction from the classroom, I would therefore not be distracted. I have tried not to make that mistake with my own students. Though I don’t give specific times for tech breaks, I try to let my students know when it is appropriate to work freely and when I expect them to stay focused. Overall, I try to trust them and deal with problems as they arise, rather than assuming that they will.

flickr photo by B.K. Dewey shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

flickr photo by B.K. Dewey shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

When I first read that for every 30 minutes of focused work, students could use a 15-minute tech break (Could Checking Facebook in Class Help Students Focus? by Liz Dwyer), I was a bit shocked at the ratio. Then, I thought of my own ability for focus. Even writing a COETAIL post can take me several days (after completing all of the reading). I end up searching for things, link jumping, and somehow always end up back on Facebook or Twitter. I probably spend about 30 minutes of a tech-break for every 30 minutes of work I complete.

So it makes sense to give my students some set time, with the understanding that sometimes the line between non-academic tech and academic tech is blurry. Sometimes, my students start link-jumping and though they are still focused, they may trail off-topic a bit.

Benefits of Screen Time

I truly believe that technology enhances our experiences. I am past the point of being convinced of the benefits of laptops (or other tech), both at home and in the classroom. I’m also very aware of the need for a balance of screen time and screen-free activities. I think any activity requires a balance, and a diverse lifestyle requires a diverse array of activities, in both adults and children.

I came across an interesting article yesterday: Happy Mother’s Day: Kids’ Screen Time is a Feminist Issue by Alexandra Samuel. It talks about how we use device-shaming to make mothers who utilize screen-time with their children feel like bad parents:

When we glare at mothers who allow their kids to have screen time in public, we aren’t really shaming them for their technology use.  We’re shaming them for something much worse. We are shaming them for asserting their own needs. We’re shaming them for actually venturing out, with their children, into the public realm. We’re shaming them for daring to be seen.

I hope that we are moving past this, but I doubt it. I know my parents were judged for letting us watch so much TV, but it was presented in my household as an educational tool and an art form. What the article misses is that parents shouldn’t (and don’t) just use tech as a distraction or a quick fix, but it can also be used as a parenting tool.

The article links to another (yay, link-jump!) which details the multiple accounts of research that refutes the myth that children’s brains are damaged by tech. It is important to continue to refute these claims and share out the benefits of technology at home and at school.


Also, the music…really?

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