When you think of learning to code, it is unlikely you have ever put that thought together with the world of Drag, but that is exactly what Billy Jacobson and his alter ego, Anna Lytical have done. He/She/They/Them… (sorry but I am not sure which pronoun they prefer), have put together a Drag Queen inspired Youtube channel dedicated to teaching kids or anyone else who is interested, how to code. It is a rather ingenious concept when you think of it, coupling the binary world of computer programming with the non-binary world of Drag, it just seems like the two were meant to be together.
The great thing about the concept is that it isn’t just a gimmick. Anna or Billy, actually know what they are talking about. Billy works as a Developer Programs Engineer at Google and it would seem Google is totally on board with the whole idea. With an entertaining idea in hand and the blessing of Google, Anna Lytical may be on her way to becoming the darling of the learn to code movement.
As an IT (Information Technology) teacher, I am inundated on a daily basis with the latest and greatest Learn to Code resources the world has to offer, but quite frankly, none of them venture too far off the tried and true “Hello World” formula that has been used for decade or more now. Anna Lytica on the other hand… Well lets just say she looks to be taking a slightly different approach. With her in drag persona and a few cleverly placed but very applicable gay straight references in the first video, Anna instantly reached a segment of the population that prefers not to be bored to death when learning to code, or simply identify with Anna’s non binary gender identity.
With all this said, Anna Lytical has only produced one video to date and it is yet to be seen if she will continue to capture the attention of would be programmers, but she is off to a good start. The first video was great in laying out the general concepts of how code works by touching on inputs – outputs, on – off, gay – straight, 1’s – 0’s… and introduced us to block coding (scratch). Now we will have to see where she goes from here. It will be interesting how she approaches more complex concepts and what platform she will use as an IDE.
Now for the big question. Would I use the Beyond Binary videos in my grade 9 IT classroom? Well I don’t tend to teach directly by video tutorial, so it would never be part of my day to day instruction, but making it part of my selection of independent study resources?… Depending how the video series progresses, it is a possibility.
Check out the first video below and feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section.
Years ago, while discussing technology in the classroom with a senior colleague of mine, he proclaimed that, “The best and most transformative piece of education technology I have ever seen in all my years teaching, is the overhead projector!” His reasoning for placing the lowly overhead projector at the pinnacle of the EdTech pyramid was pretty solid. It was simple to use, it improved his ability to efficiently relay information and if something went wrong (ie. burnt out light bulb) he could fix it himself.
If we take these three criteria and use it as a lens through which we view educational technology today, much of what we consider “good education technology” would certainly fail to meet his definition. In fact, many school districts employ digital integration specialists to help other teachers implement technology because those three criteria, efficiency, simplicity and fixability are not hallmarks of EdTech today.
I am going into my fifth year as a one of those Digital Integration Specialist (DIS) and whether by prudence or premonition, my DIS partner(s) and I have been keeping track of what kind of technology related assistance the teachers in our school have needed over the years. Recently we hit the 1000th support contact and as mundane as the numbers appear, they tell a tale of teachers’ relationship with technology in the classroom.
For the purpose of this post I have distilled the Digital Support Categories as seen in the chart below. They reflect the kind of help that is asked for on a day-to-day basis. Keep in mind, these numbers are not precise. We did our best to keep track of all our support contacts, but some were not logged. With that said, I believe that the numbers accurately represent our work.
GAFE Average- 25.7%
High: 2015/16 – 34.9%
Low: 2017/18 – 11.6%
Our school district became a GAFE district 4 years ago and as Google Apps For Education evolves so does the needs of our teachers. In the beginning, our time revolved around student logins and classroom setup. Now that the majority of our teachers are comfortable with the basics of GAFE, our time is used for answering “Is it possible…?” questions as it relates to providing students with different ways to demonstrating learning in the GAFE environment.
What is interesting about the stage we are in now, is that some of our teachers have become GAFE “experts” in their own right. They have created their own unique ways of using Google Classroom and for the most part it seems teachers have become comfortably competent with the platform.
Tech Support average 35.1%
High: 2017/18 – 40.1%
Low: 2014/15 – 32.1%
This remains the most significant part of our job. If something isn’t working, we are the go to people to get things up and running. “My projector isn’t working”, “My student can’t log in!”, “YouTube won’t play”, “Someone took my HDMI cable!”… They are all on the fly request for help from teachers who are usually in a panic. The teacher’s lesson is hinging on that piece of technology or media working and if it doesn’t, then people get upset.
This type of support doesn’t seem to be in line with what the Digital Integration Support position is all about, but it is vitally important to the success of any effort to make a school more technologically oriented. If you want teachers to use technology, it had better work and if it doesn’t, you had better have someone around that can make it work before 30 kids walk into that classroom.
Government Data Management System average – 10.4%
High: 2014/15 – 15.7%
Low: 2016/17 – 4%
Back in the day, keeping track of kids seemed to be simpler. Was the kid in attendance, yes or no? Mark it on an attendance sheet. Did they complete their homework, yes or no? Mark it in your grade book. everything went into those red coil planners where the information remained until it was time to share it out three times a year when report cards came out.
Now every last bit of information is managed by a Ministry issued Data Management System that always seems to be a throwback to the previous decade in appearance and functionality. The single biggest issue revolves around the navigation of the interface, especially around report card time. Intuitive is not a word I would use to describe our current DMS, therefore we spend a lot of time walking teachers through the labyrinth that is MyEdBC. With that said however, the current system takes up far less of our time than the previous system, the much maligned BCESIS.
Phone Setup average – 2.7%
High: 2018/19 – 8.9%
Low: 2016/17 – 1.8%
I could have just merged this item into the Tech Support category, but this area of support seems to have a special place in teachers’ expectations. Teachers want their phones to work seamlessly with the school WiFi and email system and god help you if it doesn’t.
Curriculum Support average – 26.1%
High: 2017/18 – 34%
Low: 2018/19 – 19.8%
Last but not least is the Curriculum Support area of support. This area of support revolves around helping teachers re envisioning how they can not only teach using technology, but how students can demonstrate learning using technology. When the position of Digital Integration Specialist was created, it felt that this would be the area most of our time would be spent. Helping teachers with digitizing their teaching has always been the goal, but it hasn’t really turned out that way. I have a couple thoughts as to why this has happened, but that is for another blog post.
Many quick conclusions could be made by looking at these numbers, but what I see is this. The simplicity of the overhead projector is no longer the reality of Educational Technology today. A teacher’s instructional environment is far more complex than ever before and to expect our teachers to be experts with using all this technology is just silly.
We want our teachers to be content experts. We want them to build good relationships with students and be able to accurately assess their learning. We want teaching to be about the teacher student relationship and not the technology they use. As technology becomes more intuitive, perhaps my role will diminish or perhaps it will just evolve, but I am guessing at some point even I will become too old and addle-brained to keep up and a AI will eventually take my place.
Is it my imagination or have things started to stagnate in the world of Educational Technology? The leaps and bounds by which we were moving a few years back seem to have become baby steps. People’s blog post seem to lack the excitement over technology they use to have; Twitter threads seem to just rehash the same old Edtech ideas and there hasn’t been a new application released in at least two years that are worth being excited about. Even the hardware we get these days seems to lack any sort of groundbreaking innovation.
It would seem to me that we have hit the wall in the world of educational technology and I am not sure when we can expect the next great leap forward. Perhaps this is just a sign that the world of Educational Technology is maturing. EdTech has become mundane and boring, not unlike the way my own children view my existence. I serve a purpose, but I am hardly something that is worth getting excited about, but this lull may actually be a blessing. IF we have entered a time of respite from the never-ending bombardment of the latest and greatest in education, perhaps we can now settle down and begin the hard work of developing the curriculum, resources and skills necessary to make effective use of the technology we have.
One of the biggest battles we Edtech “experts” have encountered over the past several years, was convincing classroom teachers to try new technology, but classroom teachers didn’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the merry-go-round of technological change. Many teachers felt it was a fool’s game to even try, but with this slowdown, we actually get a chance to catch-up. The irony here is that this slowdown, might end up being the opportunity we have been waiting for to move ahead with educational technology.
If we are to capitalize on this EdTech lull, a concerted effort will have to be made, in four specific areas: Leadership, Teachers, Resources & Curriculum and Professional development. It is in these interrelated areas where the use of educational technology needs to be planned for and ultimately implemented in an effective and responsible manner.
Leadership – Someone, or a group of someone’s, need to take advantage of this time we have been given and actively create the opportunities that teachers need, to begin to learn how to best utilize the technology they have at their disposal. This leadership needs to come from government, administration and from the teachers themselves through their Specialist Associations and within school districts. If leadership fails to meet their responsibility to teachers, by not creating time for collaboration, professional development and mentorship; when the next surge of technological advancement comes, educators will only be left even further behind.
Teachers – Ultimately the successful implementation of educational technology into the classroom will be up to teachers and in order for this to happen, they will have to avail themselves of the opportunities that their leadership provide them. Most teachers I know are more than happy to learn more about how they can utilize technology more effectively in their teaching. When willingness meets opportunity, progress is made.
Resources and Curriculum – Now is the time to create the resources and curriculum teachers need to properly utilize modern technology in the classroom. Since we are no longer chasing the latest in technological advancements, we have the opportunity to develop the resources and curriculum needed to properly integrate technology in the classroom. The question then becomes, who will do this development? For jurisdictions where curriculum and resources are no longer developed or distributed by an education ministry, this development will have to be done by teachers themselves, or by third-party curriculum developers.
Professional development – As I mentioned with leadership, teachers need to be provided time and opportunity to develop the skills necessary to effectively implement technology in their classroom. There has always been opportunities in the realm educational technology, but much of it plays to the converted and does not reach the non-techie teacher. With this break in the EdTech gotta-have madness, there is an opportunity to reach the masses and not come across looking like you’re just schlepping some new pyramid-scheme product. The most important part about this professional development is that it cannot come in the form of big glitzy conferences. It has to be provided on a local level, aimed at providing practical applications for all classroom teachers.
Now with all this said… Maybe I am way out to lunch. Perhaps we are still moving ahead at light speed, but my four points of EdTech integration still stand. Without proper attention in the four aforementioned areas. Education Technology will never become the domain of the mainstream teacher.
So here we are… At the end of another term and I am suppose to be all the better for it. All enlightened and edumacated and stuff. Unfortunately I don’t really feel as such. This term was a struggle for me both academically and personally. The loss of my mother just prior to Christmas followed by two friends in rapid succession after Christmas, took the piss out of me and I had a great deal of difficulty focusing on much of anything. None the less, I did manage to eek out a couple useful things from this term’s smorgasbord of learnin, in spite of all the muck and emotional mire that was my winter term.
My learning project was to go out and learn some Java Script, or perhaps I should say learn more Java Script, for my own personal growth. The idea was that I would search out and find the best learn to code platform on the web, hammer through a bunch of tutorials and somehow become a Java Script Guru. As it turned out, I failed miserably.
Fortunately, as someone who is highly skilled at the art of failure, I have come to know how to get the most out of the smouldering ashes of my learning. From this experience, I took this opportunity to furthering the learning of my students.
What I ended up doing was looking closely at 3 questions with regard to teaching coding in Schools.
Why are we trying to teach kids code?
Which students are best suited to learning code?
What method or platform is best for learning to code?
Many people interpret headlines such as these to mean that code is a must have employability skill rather than a means by which to develop a set of cognitive skills that will be useful in an ever more technically complex workplace.
People need to understand that coding is a skill just as literacy and numeracy are skills. Those traditional skills are critical to gainful employment, but they are not “employability skills” per se, They are part of a suite of skills that allow an individual to think, communicate, create and do. Coding skills are simply becoming part of that suite of skills that make an individual employable.
So what is a coding skill then. Well the one that gets bandied about the most in learn to code circles is “computational thinking” It is essentially a way to approach complex problems by breaking them down into their component parts and then finding solutions to the problem through physical or digital means. Whether this means someone does the programming to solve the problem or just the critical thinking behind the solution, computational thinking is how people “think” in a digital environment. Google has a nice little page on What is Computational Thinking. Check it out here.
If we are going to continue to move toward and live in a digitally rich environment, we are going to need people to understand how that environment works. Unless of course a giant solar flare wipes out every computer system in the world, but this is unlikely and therefore, this is why learning to code has become important. This article is quite good Why every child should learn to code”
The second question I mulled over was, which students are best suited to learning coding languages? I failed miserably in trying to improve my Java Script skills and for all intents and purposes, I wanted to learn. So what kind of student will be successful at learning this skill?
Upon looking at this question a little deeper, it would appear that the answer is this. It depends. There are any number of variables at play here. Of course an individual’s interest and natural inclination are going to be be a significant determinant in how successful they are, BUT in a classroom setting that intrinsic motivator isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
What I have found is this. The key to engaging the greatest number of students in a coding assignment or exercise is largely dependant on the platform used. My students who are what I will refer to as “gifted coders” will sit down and spend all class looking at something like Figure.1 and be happy as clams, but that is only a small number of students are at this level. What is more, only a small number of students will acquire this level of skill, but this doesn’t have to exclude other kids.
This leads us to The Third Question I was looking at. What method or platform is the best for learning code.
With visual programming platforms, such as MIT Scratch, coding or computational thinking doesn’t have to be the sole domain of those who are able to understand and write the gobbledygook we know as “code”. Sure being able to write complex strings of code is infinitely more powerful than a platform such as MIT Scratch but that isn’t the point.
Visual coding platforms give me as the teacher the ability to expose and engage the entire class to the kind of thinking that goes into writing code and THAT is what we are trying to accomplish. I am not trying to crank out programmers, I am trying to foster thinking skills.
By providing a variety of coding options to my students, I am more likely to capture the attention and interest of a far larger number of students and provide them the opportunity to acquire and reinforce the 21st Century thinking skills we are being told our students need.
Let us look at the various “Coding” platforms I used with my kids this year.
Power Point– No Power Point is not a coding platform but my god you can make some fun games with it AND it gets students into thinking like a programmer. Very visual and fun, kids will spend weeks on a single game.
MIT Scratch – Visual programming platform that allows for students of all levels to beginning creating animations and games using blocks of code. We build a Flappy Birds game and a few others over the course of 3 weeks and the kids enjoyed it.
Kodu Game Lab – A visual programming platform created by Microsoft to get kids involved in coding. Students can create excellent games which they can then export and play on their Xbox if they wish. Some of my kids LOVED it others thought it was a little lame… I liked it, so I must be lame.
Connect 2 – Visual programming platform with which students can create 2D HTML 5 games quickly and relatively easily, but students are forced to think very systematically in order to make their games work properly. Although they are not “coding” per se they are using the same type of thinking as someone who is writing strings of code.
Game Maker– Similar to Connect 2 in that there is a visual drag and drop element to the game creation but with Game Maker students can begin to use the platforms own scripting language GML, have more control over their creation. The GML language is similar in many ways to the Clanguages and Java Script so what students learn in-game maker transfers over to these languages rather well.
Unity 3D – A ridiculously powerful game making platform that uses Java Script and C# as the main scripting languages that is supports. C# is the more advanced language and is infinitely more powerful than Java Script. Although they say Unity 3D is appropriate for beginner to expert users, only a handful of students in my two ICT classes ventured into this territory.
Kahn Academy – A nice little set of Java Script tutorials that I would recommend for any beginner. Videos are clear and engaging and the interface allows the user to see how the code they write changes the object they are working on.
Code Academy– I refer to Code Academy as the best drill and kill learn to code platform out there. It is FREE, has tons of content and is excellent for reinforcing skills but it is not a very inspiring platform. Most kids lose interest in this platform in fairly short order. With that said. If you want to learn to code on the cheap, you need a code academy account.
Code School– We have only dabbled in using code school simply because it costs $$. They have a HUGE selection of courses and some of them are free and worth checking out before you spend money on a subscription.
So what does all this have to do with my learning project? Well, I came to understand that knowing Java Script or “gobbledygook” isn’t the goal here. Whether it is me or my students, what we need to get exposure to is the kind of thinking that is behind coding or programming. Prior to this exercise in futility, I thought as many do, that understanding and writing strings of code was the goal. Now I understand that computational thinking isn’t the sole domain of the programmer. It is a thought process that spans far more than a 20 inch HD computer screen.
I was at a dinner party this weekend at a friend’s place. The usual crowd had assembled, mostly friends of friends and acquaintances. We snacked, we chatted; we drank, we chatted; we ate, we chatted and then we went home. Nothing momentous occurred just a bunch of 40 somethings getting together and talking about their kids, work and the ever so faint light of retirement on the horizon.
One of the individuals there (I will call him Paul) I had met before but never really spoke to other than an obligatory “Hi! Pleased to meet you…” at another one of these little soirees. This time however, I got to have a good 60 minute chat with him over a couple glasses of Shiraz and a GREAT artichoke dip.
As it turns out, we both went to UVic at the same time. We may have even been in some of the same classes, like the PASCAL one I dropped but he managed to complete. In fact so successful was he with learning PASCAL, he went on to get his computer science degree. Now he does (or did) all sorts of programming stuff for a living. He is currently a big wig at a moderately sized tech company and has others do the coding.
As we poured the second glass of a nice little WAYNE GRETZKY OKANAGAN – CABERNET SAUVIGNON SYRAH 2013 (yes we drank Wine Gretzky), I figured I would tell him what I was trying to do with my students in getting them to learn Java Script, and instead of saying “Oh Cool!… Tell me more!” he simply said “Why?”
I was thrown for quite a loop by this response because I had been led to believe that learning how to code was the must know skill for the ages. As important as ones ABC’s or 123’s. That every employer on the face of this earth wanted our young people to learn how to code. That our children’s futures depended on it for virtually every job there could ever be, from the front counter people at McDonald’s to the Rocket Scientists at NASA.
Ok admittedly I am being a bit dramatic, but you get the picture.
But why was a computer science guy, someone who obviously finds coding to be an important skill, saying “why?” to my super amazingly innovative teaching initiative. I was counting on a Prime Minister’s Award of Teaching Excellence for this one. Then again, the way I have been bashing good old Steve on twitter, I’ll be lucky if I don’t get a room without a view in some CISIS hotel someplace, but I digress.
So why did my new good buddy Paul say “why?” when I told him about my little coding initiative? Well upon further discussion I discovered that he has no issue with teaching kids who want to learn, but as a foundational skill that every kid should know? Well lets just say he is not convinced that such a thing is necessary or even a good idea. As he puts it, there are programmers and then there are PROGRAMMERS. “We don’t need huge numbers of mediocre programmers. We need highly skilled people who can do great things with code” He went on to say “I bet the really talented kids in your class are already way beyond learning Java Script and those are the kids who will be getting hired when they get out and start looking for jobs.” He was right.
The way Paul seems to see it, is that not everyone is cut out for programming, so why would we be giving all kids the idea that programming is a career they should pursue. By the end of the last glass of wine and most of the artichoke dip, what I had gotten from the conversation was this. Not everyone can be Wayne Gretzky or even a third string NHL player for that matter, so why would be setting a kid up to be something they do not have the skills or inclination for? Really it makes perfect sense to me. Not every kid is into math or science or literature or geology or or or. That is just the way things are. I would never force my child to pursue coding just because someone says they should.
Regardless of my little conversation with Paul, I will carry on with my coding initiative. Most of the kids in my ICT class have the inclination to at least try coding for a while and who knows, perhaps a few of them will become a super famous programmers that open their own wineries when they retire and sell half-decent bottles of wine.
Lit Reviews, no one told me about these things before I started on this little journey. People only told me about the Thesis or the Project, but never the Lit Review. I think there must be some sort of ritualistic secret pledge you must make, along the lines of the Free Masons or Illuminati, before you get your degree. “Thou shall not speak of the Literature Review to any of the unwashed and unlearned masses!”
I am actually starting to enjoy the silly thing, but it is taking on a life of its own. I just wish I had more time to read and write. I am starting to understand why some people take a year or two off to do their masters.
What I am starting to like most about the whole process, is how the Literature Review is evolving. It took me a great deal of time, energy and thought to get started but things are moving along quite nicely now. The only concern now is that I honestly think it could go on forever. There is just so much out there to read and write about.
To start, the greatest struggle was creating a research question to work with. Then the reading began and that was a bit like sludging though waist deep snow to start but as you read you see new avenues to follow and key words to search. The path to the answer you are looking for, becomes a dendritic maze of possibilities.
As the journal articles stack up and your head becomes cloudy with more information you can possibly summarize, the answers to your research question begin to stack up. Then you begin to realize that you might want to rethink your research question. Is it adequate? did I ask the right question? Are there new questions I should be asking? Did I find answers to questions I should be asking? Fortunately I haven’t had to go back the drawing board, but I have had to tweak my research question.
To start I was doing this work flying by the seat of my pants, but as I continue I am finding myself leaning on the guidance of our text-book Educational Research – Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research by John W. Creswell. In the beginning I was dreading having to wade through this 600 page behemoth, but it has become very handy in trying to figure out what it is I should be doing.
Moving ahead I will need to start enlisting more help from my faculty advisor and all the other people available to help me. It has become abundantly clear that am not a 21 Century Learner and I am not much of a collaborator. I enjoy discussing things with the people in my cohort, but when it comes down to putting word to blog, I like working on my own. I have a feeling that this wont work for too much longer as I enter my last two terms of this degree.
What an embarrassment! My online learning project is a shambles and I have resorted to a book. A real honest to god paper book on learning Java Script. Oh the shame, oh the horror, oh the heresy… Will I , can I ever live this one down? Meh… Who cares. This project is about learning isn’t it and I wanted to use a book so be it.
What find useful about this format, is that I can (as I have in the past) use the information in this book to help me build a course of my own. This is a common trait in teachers I find. You can give them a Course in a Can, all ready to go and they end up tweaking it suit their needs or teaching style.
This is the problem with all packaged curriculum whether in be online or hard copy. Teachers will always dissect it, modify it and repackage for delivery in their classroom and it will not look anything like it did when it came out of the government approved curriculum factory.
I think this trait of compulsive re jigging of curriculum comes from a teacher’s preservice days, when doing a B.Ed., you would swap unit plans amongst the members of your cohort and adapt them to suit your student teaching assignment. This ultimately saved an immense amount of time and energy because you didn’t have to hunt down resources, write out the curriculum word for word and then present it. More time could be spent on the craft of teaching, coming up with creative ways of presenting the materials. With the odd tweak here and there to make the unit plan your own, you were ready to go in a day or two instead of weeks.
Today, I still find hard copy materials useful in planning my units or lessons but with the use of the internet there is a plethora of digital resources I can call on to add to the framework that hard copy materials give you. This book is actually just one of a number of resources I have been gathering to learn Java Script and will use to cobble together my own course.
What this means, is that my learning project has moved on from trying to learn Java Script for the sake of learning Java Script to learning Java Script for the purpose of having a serviceable course to deliver to my students. Don’t worry, I have no delusions about becoming a Java Script Guru through this process. What I suspect or perhaps I should say hope, is that by going through the process of building this course, I will acquire the skills needed to support my students through a beginning level course rather than leaving their learning up to Khan Academy.
As part of a digital citizenship unit I do in my classes, I show a documentary called Digital Nation. It is a 2010 Front Line production that takes a look at the new “connected generation” and how they are faring in this new wired world.
A sign of the times, the February 2, 2010 production is only 5 years old, but it already looks dated. What is interesting however, is that the questions and the concerns this documentary posed in 2010, are still fresh and relevant today. We don’t seem to be working through the issues that the digital era has placed before us, yet advancements in technology soldier on. An ever-widening gap has developed between what we understand about technology and the technology itself, but I wondered if this is just a gap my generation just can’t traverse?
Some of the things we worry about and posed in this documentary include:
Myth of multitasking
Short attention spans
Inability to think clearly
Poor analytical thinking
Disconnect between real and online worlds
Even as someone who endorses and supports the use of technology, I have my concerns about theses things. As a teacher I see unhealthy behaviors around the use of technology all the time and it isn’t just with the students. The funny thing is, there can be quite the double standard when it comes to tech and who is using it. One minute I can hear an adult complaining about kids and their dependence and misuse, the next minute that same adult is doing the very thing they were complaining about the kid doing.
To get a bit of a measure on what kids thought about their own use of technology in school, I did a bit of a survey after watching Digital Nation. I should have actually given the survey before and after to see if the documentary had some effect on the way they thought about their relationship with technology, but the post view survey yielded some interesting results just the same.
Just so everyone realizes that I realize the survey is not scientifically valid. I declare the data unscientific! Just fun to look at. First concern any of us have about our digital device use is how much time we spend on these things, so the first question I asked was how much time do you THINK you are spending on a digital device over the course of a week. I thought the responses were quite reasonable until I referenced a recent study of college students published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. It was concluded that.
…college students spent nearly nine hours daily on their cell-phones. As the functionality of cell-phones continues to expand, addiction to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology becomes an increasingly realistic possibility. Roberts, Yaya, & Manolis (2014)
Addiction issues aside, this number dwarfs the number I got in my little survey. What it is suggesting to me that my students are under estimating their time on-screen and that all of us probably spend much of our time blissfully unaware of time we are squandering on our devices. The other concern, especially with educators, is that kids cannot focus on anything for more than a minute or two without checking their phone or gazing longingly into some type of screen. Again this is not just a student issue, I see plenty of adults who are compulsively checking their phones or sitting down at a computer terminal. “Oh! I am JUST checking my email… be off in a sec” Sustaining focus seems to be an issue and something that is quite important to some tasks in life.
My results seem to suggest that the majority of my students have at least some level of awareness about how their devices affect them and if they are aware of it, then there is hope they can change their behavior should it become problematic. However, if we are talking about addiction issues then changing the behavior won’t be a matter of a simple rational choice.
The next statement played with the idea of banning digital devices in schools all together and as you can see this idea was not all that warmly embraced. This statement got the highest number of NO FLIPPING WAY votes of any of the questions, but there were students who thought that it might be an idea. Why they voted for an outright ban… Who knows but it goes to show there is a segment of the student body who are willing to entertain the idea.
What I found most interesting was how well the next two questions were received. The suggestion of a more moderate stance, where devices were not banned but instead moderated or controlled was much more acceptable to the students. This would be more along the lines of how things play out in class now, but many educators (including myself) still struggle with issues around appropriate time and use of digital devices. It is very difficult to regulate device use in a classroom. You can have all the rules you want around when students can use a device, but there is ALWAYS at least one student in class trying to push those boundaries and this drives some teachers absolutely batty.
What surprised me was the support the students gave to the idea of having some classes where devices are not allowed. I would be curious which classes they would accept a device ban in but alas I didn’t ask that question. I am sure there could be arguments made for digital free zones in all subject areas, but I don’t think we could ever get to a place where one course was digital free and another not. I think time better spent would be working to create a school/classroom culture where appropriate time and use guidelines are respectfully followed by both students and the adults in the building.
Although there is nothing in my little unscientific survey to suggest that we have this digital device thing all figured out in our schools, I think there are more positives in these graphs than negatives. It would appear to me that my students are more than willing to take a critical look at their device use and are willing to accept situations where they don’t use their device for a period of time. It looks to me that they might actually understand that there is a balance to be had between living device free and being digitally dependant.
Life is undoubtedly different today than a scant twenty years ago but we are learning how best to manage this wired world we live in. We will undoubtedly make mistakes but I think we will eventually be able to bridge the gap between the two solitudes of Device free and all wired all the time.
Roberts, J. A., Yaya, L. H. P., & Manolis, C. (2014). The invisible addiction:
Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students.Journal of behavioral addictions
I stumbled upon an app the other day called Instant. It is a nifty little “lifestyle application” that measures your cellphone use by counting the number of unlocks you do through the day, the number of minutes you spend using the device, the number of minutes you spend on each individual application and the number of minutes of walking you do. The purpose of the app is help users achieve more balance between the time they spend on their digital device and the time spent interacting with the “real world”A.
Although not a complex app, in the simplicity of its measures a profound statement is made about our relationship with technology. It is an irony for the times, that we have come to a point where we are now using technology to manage our relationship with technology. The idea of the app stems from a movement called the Quantified Self.
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical)
The notion of the Quantified Self is nothing new. We have been doing this sort of thing since we had the ability to count, whether it be for fitness, health, finances or other. If we could count it we did it. Where things have changed in recent years however, is with our ability to data mine out daily activities using the technology in our pocket.
Personally I am a big fan of personal data mining apps related to fitness. Apps such as FitBit, Strava and Garmin can harvest an astounding amount of data from my daily activity. With FitBit I can count the number of steps I take, floors I have climbed, nutrition in the food I eat and even my heart rate throughout the day. When I go cycling, my Garmin App collects data on all my rides including kilometers ridden, route taken, average speed, elevation climbed, cadence, heart rate and more. The amount of data I can collect on my physical activity is astounding and has been very useful in managing my health. If I am ignoring my health, (which I do between October 31 and January 1’st) The data makes it glaringly obvious how far in the tank I have gone and if I am training for something, the data is fantastic for helping me prepare.
The other thing I quantify is my spending and again this is nothing new. People have been budgeting for years but today using an app to track your spending, the metrics you can generate on that spending is astounding. By using a spend tracking app I have gotten my Starbucks habit under control, almost eliminated buying my lunch, along with a myriad of other spending ills that tracking with paper and pencil never managed to do.
The obvious question now is, how have we gotten to the point where we need to quantify ourselves in order to lead a balanced life? Well as much as I hate to say it, we are a society that is driven to imbalance through the demands of the jobs we have, the cost of the lives we lead, the crazy family life we create and the technology we use. If you want to be part of the “modern world” you no longer have the luxury to just be; to live in the moment or to live a simple unencumbered life. Sure there are places and situations where this is still possible but it isn’t a practical choice for many of the 7 billion people living in this world.
What I would like to think is that quantifying ourselves using the technology in hand, gives us the opportunity to take back some control of the crazy lives many of us are entrenched in. Instant is a perfect example of an application that helps us break free from our unhealthy, compulsive use of our personal devices. Perhaps it will be the beginning of regaining the balance in our lives we once had, moving away from being used by technology, back toward being a user of technology.