More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.

and

The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

Photo: school zone by sevenbirches

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