Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Myth of Distraction: It's Not the Technology

   Recently I read an article by Starr Sackstein in Education Week about some of the weak but pervasive arguments for limiting access to technology in schools. I would hope that education professionals would be well beyond such arguments and would be working to dispel such myths among their respective communities. Many of them are. Fortunately, I am  part of a school district that recognizes the vital need for equipping its students and teachers by bringing access to unprecedented knowledge and resources into the classroom. Critical to this vision is the companion belief that good, solid pedagogical skills will always drive student success and achievement. Technology amplifies sound instructional practices. And yet some arguments against technology in schools still persist.
   Sackstein's article points out the fallacies of the "myth of distraction". While it is true that mobile devices like iPads, cell phones, and laptops can be an outlet for distraction, are they truly the source of distraction, or just the means for students to do what they have always done for decades when they are bored or not being challenged? Students of yesteryear have been passing notes to friends in school, doodling during study halls, or losing their places in textbooks for generations. Yet I can't remember a public outcry to get rid of pencils, remove all paper, or stop ordering  textbooks because they were a distraction. Placing the blame for classroom distraction solely on technology is avoiding the real culprit: ineffective and uninspiring classroom instruction.
   The proliferation of mobile devices and the instant access to information is exactly why technology belongs in schools. If we as educators do not overcome our fear of technology (and assist our communities in doing the same), how will we ever teach our students to harness its power for the greater good or teach them to properly discern and think critically about the instantaneous, endless flow of information and data? Who will teach them to function in a global society that will be saturated with information, digital devices, and the need to collaborate with others?
   The access to resources available through mobile learning devices offers an unprecedented opportunity to overcome boundaries and limitations in order to meet individual learner needs. Again, in the hands skillful educators, community leaders, and partnerships committed to teaching digital citizenship and responsibility, technology offers the ability to enhance, amplify, excite, inspire, innovate, instruct, and energize students. The use of technology in schools brings the world to the doorstep of every school building--don't our kids deserve the same opportunities on a level playing field as other students around the globe?
   We cannot afford to ignore the potential benefits of mobile technology in the classroom for the sake of age-old arguments like "distraction" in school. Distraction has been, and always will be, a symptom of other problems. We must step up to the challenge as educators. As Sackstein points out, we must overcome our fears and embark upon our own journey of discovery and personal growth. We must seek to engage our students with inspired teaching and effective practice; if we don't,  they will always find some other outlet to sustain their inquisitiveness or interest--with or without technology.