Should schools go completely digital?

Odd question. Perhaps a few years too late, but…

Would you want your children to be in a school that’s all digital? Let me paint a few scenarios.

  • Should teachers stop using handouts and publish lessons to be read, watched or listed to on digital devices?
  • Should schools have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy?

There is no shortage of  wonderful, free technologies that stimulate collaboration, and empathy. I have even used some of them in my classes! However, I also know that young people are perfectly capable of learning, creativity, discourse and group work without the help of a shiny object. We hear that ‘Digital Natives’ are wired for learning differently. But are they?

And then there’s the brain development side.

  • There are also the unintended consequences of too much screen time, warns Dr. Aric Sigman. He warns of “permanent damage to (children’s) still-developing brains”. Dr. Sigman is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Read this piece published in April this year by Psychology TodayThis Is What Screen Time Really Does to Kids’ Brains.

A new book about digital natives, Screenwise, calls for more mentoring not monitoring. But we tend to assume too much about digital natives. I like the point made by Jessica Laura (in a blog post at CommonSense.Org) that calls for ongoing, explicit training of digital literacy – and not just ‘screens.’ She says:

People say, “The child’s a digital native,” but that has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to use technology well; that just means they’ve grown up with it. Just because I grew up speaking English doesn’t know I mean everything about English; we still go to English class for 13 years of our lives. 

Digital Citizenship and digital literacy is a fast-updating field. What people in their forties and fifties ‘know’ about digital is probably ancient wisdom. It may not happen in the next school year, but here’s a question for parents and teachers: What would you do if your school goes digital?

My wife runs a school that will probably never go digital. For good reason – it is a Montessori school, a place where, happily, you can’t replace such tools as sandpaper letters, sound boxes and pink towers. But before we know it, toddlers may be needing to know a thing or too about what it means to be a digital citizen – when they get home to their parents’ smart devices!

‘BYOD’ in schools, free ‘Candy Crush’ tablets for MPs – Maybe it’s a good thing

The BYOD – or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – movement has been gathering steam in schools. If you want to know my position on this, I put it this way: It could quickly turn into Bring Your Own Distraction’ unless we make sure young students understand what screens are good for, and what they are lousy at. Unless we teach young people how to engage with others, and the value of being able to dive deep into issues beyond simple search and scan, we will end up with a distracted workforce, and distracted leaders.

Speaking of whom, consider this: 650 British MPs will be issued iPads after the British elections in May. But apparently the Brits are concerned about distraction. (Just read the headline of this Forbes article, and you’ll know what I mean.) But skepticism aside, it’s about time elected officials are provided with technology that denies them the excuse for not staying in touch with the rest of us.

In my book, Chat Republic, I featured a prescient idea by a Sri Lankan journalist who said that we ought to make democracy more digital. In a nutshell, what Indi Samarajiva said was that the average citizen has a right to know how an elected acts on our behalf, in real-time! Here is Indi expounding on part of that idea.

Last December (21014) Accenture published a paper on ‘Government as a Digital Disruptor. It spoke of the need for an eco-system for open, collaborative, creative engagement. Read the paper here.