(Re) Focus Technology Implementation

A few years ago I wrote about focus and how it would be the most challenging 21st century skill students (and adults) would need to possess in a world flooded with constant content. While technology has found a place in the classroom and all of our personal lives (except my father’s), we still need to ensure a healthy balance of screen time for both ourselves as professionals, and transfer that model to our students. It’s never been more important.

I make an attempt every Sunday morning to disconnect from all devices. I turn my phone off, shutdown my laptop screen, and turn off my iPad. Don’t allow for any alerts to enter these moments, simply shut it off. Not to be confused with Taylor Swift. When I engage in this exercise I get an odd feeling. I feel as though these connected devices are silently calling my name and that I am missing out on a great tweet or a great resource. My levels of dopamine are falling and suddenly Sherry Turkle’s philosophy of being connected but alone begins to surface.

However, when I focus on the Sunday New York Times, followed by a book, I tend to feel full after. This is not a new concept, but juxtaposed with how I feel after flipping through FlipBoard, a variety of Twitter streams, texting, emailing, etc. all within the same moment, it’s vastly different. I feel exhausted and unsure of what just happened. It’s like a blur of small amounts of information. I didn’t retain anything and I don’t feel full, I feel exhausted and mildly accomplished.

The moments I’ve illustrated above can be seen in the hallways of our schools. Students today have access to more information than at any other time in history. They also have a plethora of outlets, avenues, and channels to engage with at any given time of the day. And, while some may argue that the connected student is a good thing, I would argue that it is not. Not entirely. A connected student or connected educator is not about how many digital worlds you subscribe to, but rather, your level of engagement with them and how they can make us better at what we do. Similarly, we need to help students manage their digital lives while encouraging them to focus on what they’re passionate about in school. And, have them share those passions through a blog or possibly Twitter.

Studies on brain development under the duress of multitasking and engaging in a variety of tasks at once, have shown that those activities don’t make us smarter or more efficient, they make us tired and weary–and they impact brain development. What’s more, it affects our short term memory and causes us to forget meetings, dinner plans, our children at soccer practice. This is what we’re missing; the simple, important moments in our lives. This idea should give us pause when thinking about the rate and amount of technology we allow our students access to while engaged in the learning process.

Over the past few years it has been my job to bring technology into the classroom in order to engage students and provide efficient workflows for students and teachers. Additionally, I viewed technology devices as a way for students to engage in challenge-based learning simulations and have access and opportunities to rich, dynamic content while engaged in these inquiry driven activities. When I visit classrooms I don’t look for devices or apps, but simply learning. I look for conversations, collaborative practice, and questioning. And this is not to say that technology should be left out, either. Rather, my assertion lies within an educator’s ability to balance screen time when students are engaged in the learning process.

I get upset when I attend conferences or hear about consultant workshops that simply focus on applications and devices. I look at consulting companies and all I see are apps, device-centered learning, and the idea of “app smashing”. It’s not what technology implementation should be, ever. Yes, applications can do some amazing things and lead students to produce an engaging final product, but what about the skill sets being taught? What about the application of that learning beyond the final product?  If a student uses the camera app, Explain Everything, and iMovie to create an end product, am I more impressed with the workflow, or the inquiry that drove the learning? Most educators would say the later.

Ultimately, classroom technology should provide an opportunity for students to expand their learning and share it in an engaging manner. As educators, we must balance the technology in our classrooms and not saturate it with apps and confusing workflows. Rather, focus lessons around a challenge that drive students to think, question, and experiment. Allow the challenge to drive the lesson forward, and provide access to technology that can further engage or highlight what students are learning.