Are the issues and possibilities for use of social software and technology in general different for elementary schools, high schools, and higher education? I think yes, and different guidance should be applied to each age groups.
Admittedly, social software and technology has strengths in terms of building social relationships and overcoming geographical distance, etc. But it also has weaknesses and threats such as workload issues, limitations in the quality of interaction, etc. When used in a higher education setting, since students are mostly adults, they have the ability to control themselves and is more likely to know how to utilize the technology to help learning, social software and technology can be better used to foster learning.
However, even we are only talking about adults, many people have already expressed their findings and concerns on how too much “phone-checking” and “multi-tasking” reduced our attention span and the ability to focus. Some researches also found that our brains are changing to adapt to the habit of “multi-tasking”. So think about those children who are called “Digital Natives”. When their bodies are still growing, are their brains evolving to be more short time focused and easily distracted, but maybe more sensitive to animated objects and details? Are they more accustomed to interpret pictures, graphs rather than texts?
No matter if such evolution does exist, it is vital to provide guidance in the use of social software and technology in elementary school to high school settings. Nowadays, it is hard and unwise to forbid children from using smart phones and technologies, but it is the educators’ and parents’ responsibility to guide them to take advantage of these technologies to help them in all aspects of life, not merely in studies.
Having been a teacher for two years, I have witnessed students’ unstoppable passion towards playing their smart phones during class break. This might not be easily seen in a formal school, given the fact that many schools and parents restrict cell phone use. But since I taught English as an extra curriculum on weekends, students had more freedom to bring their phones to classroom. I observed that during break, students always took out their phones and started playing games/ chatting with online friends, and surprisingly they seldom chatted with each other that were physically present in the classroom. I was interested in knowing how they used technology to help studying, so I did some surveys among my students ranging from middle school to college students, asking them the main purpose of using smart phones. Unexpectedly, few of the middle school students said they used phones for studying, mostly for entertainment; some high school students could utilize apps to learn English; while more college students knew how to use phones to help study.
Noticing that, I started recommending good apps and good online resources to learn English. When you know how to do it, technology can be surprisingly amazing to achieve things that are hard to achieve before. For example, an English speaking app uses voice recognition technology to detect user’s recording and compare it with standard pronunciation so that user can know which part is not perfect. Also through role-play game mechanics, user feels motivated to speak English. Such great educational apps/games are abundant out there, but students as well as teachers and parents are not yet fully aware of all the possibilities.
It is innocent to expect those “Digital Natives” will all discover them on their own without coming cross some negative things. It is also sad that some parents/ teachers forbid use of phones at school. Both actions are too extreme. With some proper guidance, students can learn how to best utilize the advantages of technology while not losing themselves in it. And I believe the guidance could be given as early as in elementary school, starting from very basic and restricted use of technology. Children can read E-books, learn alphabets and math from apps, etc. but cannot download apps or purchase contents freely. This is to give children a sense of what phones or mobile devices can do – not merely playing games. I noticed before that some parents let their toddlers who can barely speak play freely on phones without any regulation, and the parents themselves are constantly on their phones.
Meanwhile, regarding the issue of neglecting physical relationship, some social etiquette are necessary to help children know what should be done and what should not. For example, when talking to a person face to face or attending a meeting, it is rude to check your phone constantly.
Based on this, the guidance could cover these areas:
- Recommended resources by teachers
- How to find resources you need
- How to make your phone work for you, but not consumed by it
- Entertainment is not the only function of a phone
- Learning can also be gaming
- Social etiquettes in using technology