On Connection, Devices, & Empathy

A recent New York Times article titled “Stop Googling. Lets Talk.” lays out a compelling case for greater intentionality in how and when we make use of our portable devices.

How can we purposefully create environments where children learn to make decisions about these tools and use them (or NOT!) for the good of themselves and others?

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

In schools and at home, how do we recommit ourselves to the priceless value of authentic human connection?

We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

More than anything, our children and students need to know who they are and who those around them are. Without self-knowledge and awareness of others no meaningful or lasting difference can be made in the world.

Everything in Moderation

Since the proliferation of screens (big and small) began to sky rocket, health and science professionals have been trying to get a handle on the impacts of screen time on the health, wellness, and development of children and adults. As screens take hold in classrooms as well, being abreast of the most recent research and up-to-date findings (positive and negative) regarding screen time is necessary. Best parenting and teaching practices are constantly evolving – and though rules or recommended restrictions may shift in small and large ways…the take away should really be quality over quantity and everything in moderation.

An Update on Screen Time – NPR

“Zero to Three, a nonprofit research organization focused on infants, toddlers and their families, published Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. The report summarized existing research and encouraged child-adult interactions. Screen time is most effective when adults and children use electronic devices together, it said…There is no definitive set of rules — the research and our perception is evolving.”

Common Sense, Science-based Advice on Toddler Screen Time
Small Screens Mess With Children’s Sleep, Study Finds

“The issue seems to be that children with screens (large or small) present in the bedroom go to bed later than those without. The children all woke up at the same time to go to school. The study doesn’t go as far as figuring out what specifically about the screens kept the the children from sleeping. NPR explains: This study wasn’t designed in a way that could figure out what was causing the sleep loss and tiredness — whether the kids were actually using the devices thus exposing themselves to light and stimulating content, say, or whether getting calls or alerts during the night interrupted sleep”

 

 

Skimming vs. Absorbing Meaning & 3 new Rs

It was not THAT long ago that smart phones were a rare luxury found in the hands of high-powered entrepreneurs and financiers. Today they fall out of the half-zipped backpacks of young children and are left forgetfully behind by over-scheduled adults. We touch them within minutes of waking up, and turn screens off just moments before falling asleep. We fear missing out. We fear a great catastrophe if we aren’t instantly accessible….but didn’t nearly everyone who can read this post grow up in an era where if you left your house, you weren’t reachable until you returned?

It begs the question: what are we teaching our children and students about meaningful living and learning?

Two articles related to this question (links and excerpts shared below) recently caught my attention. As per usual, the most balanced perspectives on digital tools and media at all levels of education and in daily living are those that advocate for wisdom, moderation, and well-informed intentionality in the lives of both children and adults. If research shows that meaningful living and learning happen in the context of relationships, resilience, and reflection…how are we cultivating THOSE 3 Rs? It behooves us all to think carefully about what we are modeling for children about balance, presence, and self-care.

New York Times: A Conversation With Goucher’s New President

“Transparency improves learning. If you tell students that what they’re doing is critical thinking, they retain it more than if you don’t name it. We know a lot about what works. For example, using a highlighter when you read doesn’t increase student learning; what does is reading the chapter, then taking out an index card and putting it in your own words. We talk about the three Rs: relationships, resilience and reflection. If you increase those things, students will learn more, and teaching content becomes less important. We don’t have to teach you the periodic table because there’s a guy online who teaches it. But those guys online don’t know the names of their students. And there’s hard evidence that students learn more when they feel you know and care about them.” – Dr. José Antonio Bowen

Washington Post: Are You Really Here? Or Are You Skimming?

“It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can, in fact, mean more…As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning…Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them.” – Jennifer Meer

If you are wondering…

How can I teach leadership skills to all my students? Read Teaching Leadership to All

How can I create a culture of inclusion in my classroom? Read In Pursuit of the Multicultural Curriculum

How can I develop my own creativity so I can model it for students? Read Embracing our Creativity

What is innovation and why does/should it matter to me and my classroom? Read The Innovation Imperative

Connected, but Alone

This TED talk by Sherry Turkle is worth the listen and the thought-time. As we model for our students and children how to engage meaningfully in community, navigate emotions and relationships with friends and loved ones, and balance increasing demands on our time and attention as a result of this digital age: reflecting on Sherry Turkle’s words will not be a waste.

“We seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things…and the end result is we expect more from technology and less from each other…When Thoreau considered “where I live and what I live for,” he tied together location and values. Where we live doesn’t just change how we live; it informs who we become. Most recently, technology promises us lives on the screen. What values, Thoreau would ask, follow from this new location? Immersed in simulation, where do we live, and what do we live for?” – Sherry Turkle

Do you SAMR?

Pedagogy wheel for technology integration using the SAMR model

Pedagogy wheel for technology integration using the SAMR model

The SAMR Model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redesign) offers some insight into different ways that technology can support the engagement of learners, as well as a description of the process through which educators (who are generally digital immigrants versus the digital natives they teach) grow as they broaden and deepen their facility and comfort with new tools.

Substitution: Substituting technology for former tools with no functional change

Augmentation: Substituting technology with some functional improvement

Modification: Using technology for significant task redesign

Redesign: Using technology for new tasks that were previously inconceivable with former tools

The picture above uses common programs and apps to illustrate how these different descriptors of technology use play out in the classroom.