Open Mic 2: The Impact of Constant Connectivity

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Question 1:

One of the topics explored in Sherry Turkle’s (2011) Alone, Together, is the impact that  technology has on identity during adolescence.  Typically, during this phase, young people “need time to discover themselves, time to think”(Turkle, 2011, p. 172).  However, the overuse and over-dependence on technology, as well as “always-on communication and telegraphic speed and brevity, has changed the rules of engagement with all of this” (Turkle, 2011, p.172). Children and adolescents are “tethered” to their parents, which means that they are always available and reachable. Turkle (2011) worries that with this constant connection, young people are missing out on key adolescent experiences that shape independence and perseverance because instead of working to figure out a solution on their own, many are calling their parents for those solutions. However, there is a paradox at work here because while young people might be available to others, they are unavailable to themselves.  This practice of connectivity and availability is something that adults engage in as well. However, if we are always connected, when are we able to hear our own thinking?  When do we reflect on personal experiences?  I personally believe that in order to understand ourselves, we need to learn how to listen to our thoughts and think deeply about actions, reactions and relationships. I believe that as a culture, we have to continue asking questions about what our habits allow us to gain and what we are losing.

Until two years ago, classrooms and hallways in our high school were no device zones.   We had strict policies in place that allowed teachers to confiscate phones that were visible in the classroom.  With revision of this device policy, came an enormous shift in our school culture.  Now, students walk down the hallways with their phones in hand and when they come into the classroom, they place them on their desks because inevitably, they will use them during class, perhaps to quickly look up a definition or even share an assignment with their teacher.  Some students even walk into the room with chargers in hand, locate outlets and plug their phones in to be charged.  With the liberty and availability of their phones, comes the consequence of being distracted.  What are main distractors? For our students, it is mostly consulting social media sites and texting during class. In a perfect world, my students would have two devices–one to engage in socially and an entirely different one to use for educational purposes.  What I have noticed is that when they use the same device for social and educational purposes they become distracted and ultimately choose social media.  I do still ask students to put their phones away during class, but inevitably, they seep out of their pockets or backpacks.  When students are in my class, I want them to experience “flow,” which is “the complete and utter absorption” (Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children.  It is where they experience “creativity” and “artistry.”  However, if they are constantly interrupted by outside factors, then they will not have the same quality of learning experiences as they would if completely engaged.3348486960_5e6ca43e43

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Another facet of the impact of technology on our learning environment is what Turkle discusses in a NY Times piece entitled, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” In it, she claims that phones are “not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are” thus changing the ways in which we engage in conversations.  Instead of speaking to one another from our authentic selves, we are limiting our connections by discussing what is on our phones.  When I shared this article with my ninth grade students, they overwhelmingly agreed that it accurately conveys their habits with devices.  One particular student said that he has noticed that no one ever talks about anything interesting while in the cafeteria.  According to him, if his peers are not listening to music, playing games or on social media, they are showing each other their phones and talking about what is one them.

Question 2:

Jane Brody’s Screen Addiction Is Taking A Toll On Children best represents my perspective on the impact of technology on teens.  I have seen that, “Schoolwork can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying, a claim made in this piece. I personally believe that technology tools can allow us to do amazing things in almost every area of our learning experiences, including extending our realities in ways that we would not be able to do without them.  However, when the social aspects of our lives begin to infringe on, and consume other aspects, including educational and reflective, then we have to revisit our actions and do all we can to achieve balance.

In It’s Complicated, author Dana Boyd examines the concept of addiction with regard to teens and their uses of technology.  He claims that “media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked.”  Boyd further discusses the push-and-pull relationship with regard to the perception and requirements of digital uses.  The conflict here is clear; teens are deemed to be too connected, while at the same time, we are changing school policies and practices to capitalize on the fact that they are connected.  Are we not then, perpetuating their connectivity and the consequences thereof?  When our students have to go online to complete assignments, does that mean that we are putting them in the positions where they have to be connected?  

I believe that Boyd’s point about balance is crucial. As parents and educators, we have to be attentive to what we are conveying to young people as being necessities of their human experiences and then what we are asking them to do as a part of those human experiences.  Do the actions that we require of them support the lives we believe they should be living?  For my own children, I have chosen to delay the introduction of technology as a social tool for as long as I can. That way, they can focus on using those tools for educational purposes.  I know that this will change, but as I model balance in my own life, along with effective uses of technology, I hope to teach them those values that will allow them to seek their authentic selves and enjoy  their personal experiences.

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Note:  Since my audience for this blog spans a wide  range-from educators to parents and even my adolescent students-I chose to convey my thoughts in a blog form.  I feel that this medium allowed me to explore the topic deeply and convey my personal observations and reflections as an individual, parent and educator.

Reconsideration Based on Audience-Multimodal Tutorial

Link to Multimodal Tutorial for Audience A

I have created a multimodal tutorial designed to show my students the steps to build a thematic assertion statement.  Since this lesson is at the beginning of their first informational process piece, I decided to reinforce daily mini-lessons with accompanying multimodal tutorials. Tools like these are examples of the how our “culture has embraced vastly new and dynamically changing media” and it has become the expectation that instruction is moving beyond traditional tools such as textbooks, chalkboards, overhead projectors, ring binders, and composition books(O’Byrne). In our school, we operate under the assumption that every student has digital access and can therefore take advantage of tools such as multimodal tutorials. Much of this access is through a smartphone owned by the student or a parent.

My initial audience (Audience A) is my students and as stated, it is not designed to be the only form of instruction, but to reinforce what has been taught already.  Being attentive to the audience and purpose of the tutorial, I chose to include a video explaining the steps in the process with accompanying annotations, as well as screenshots of written instructions.  I did not include rationales, limitations, caveats, because those things were done verbally. As far as the appearance for my tutorial goes, I chose to use a font that is less formal. I remember experimenting with different types of fonts ranging from Times new Roman to Georgia; however, I ended up going with one that seemed a bit more “fun.” Also, I spent time looking at the different colors for slides and eventually chose one that would not get in the way of students’ ability to focus on the information. Although I had not considered it then, now that I am reflecting on the appearance of my tutorial, I think about the fact that I am introducing students to a formal writing piece, and my choices for how I would convey the information all seem to be grounded in being less formal.

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If I were to re imagine this tutorial for another audience, I would most likely consider educators (Audience B) because the information presented in the tutorial would be of interest to them in terms of instructing how to help students create assertions statements to drive their papers. With this new audience in mind, I realize that I would maintain the form, but the purpose would change from reinforcement to instruction.  The reason I would keep the multimodal tutorial as the mode of presentation is because it is an effective tool for showing how to engage in a process to achieve a specific result.  While the information present to Audience A would remain in the presentation for Audience B,, I would need to add additional information to fulfill the needs of my new audience. For starters, I would perhaps change the font to include a more standard or professional one.  I would also include a discussion of where I got  the strategy, which means that I would discuss Lynn Erickson and her work with concept-based curricula.  

Further, for Audience B, I believe that it would be important to include some limitations of the strategy, including what happens if students do not choose appropriate concepts to begin with and also information about the fact that throughout the entire process, constant revision of ideas and form is important. Finally, I may choose to include a sample student paper to illustrate how this first part builds to culminate with a final writing piece.

The Power that Lies In Conversations

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A few years ago, while reading Dr. Wayne Dyer’s (2006) book, Inspiration, I came across a section about listening to others that really spoke to me. Essentially, Dyer outlines the ability to listen well as a way to “inspire others,” saying that “there’s no higher compliment than to be told we’re a good listener.  Everyone loves a good listener largely because it makes them feel loved, cared for, and worthy of being heard.”  Even further, he goes on to say that “when we leave any encounter where we feel we’ve been heard, even if we know the listener strongly disagreed with us, we are still inspired…Why? Because for a few moments the listener emulated what it feels like to pray.”  I remember pausing after reading that last line to consider the idea that listening well is reflecting back to the speaker.  I even wondered about the use of words.  Is it always necessary to use words or is it okay to just be present and listen.  After reading about Andy and Jonathan in Chapter 6 of Turkle’s AloneTogether, I am led to wonder more deeply about what/how we are reflecting during conversations with other.  Do we inspire others by just listening or is more required?  Do we have to speak in response?  If so, are words enough or do they have to be accompanied by emotions and experience?  If listening is enough in conversation and relationships, then can robots like My Real Baby be enough? Turkle’s response, and I agree, might be that mere presence is not a qualifying factor for conversation or forming relationships, because those exchanges are void of the most important elements: genuine emotion and care.  In Stop Googling. Let’s Talk, Turkle advocates for “open-ended and spontaneous” conversations because during these conversations, “we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are” and I would add, help people see who they are.

Mixed Messages

Within the context of a classroom, effective communication is essential to student learning.  I am a fierce advocate for face to face conversations, and I am realizing that more and more, a student will walk out of my classroom and then send an email asking a question–avoiding a face to face conversation and opting for a more distancing tool to communicate.  I am not even certain that students are purposefully avoiding conversation; instead, I am wondering if we are simply operating on different definitions of what it means to engage in a conversation.  This year, there is an expectation that every teacher has a digital presence with class content accessible to students outside of the classroom. Some media through with this access is created include platforms such as Google Site and Classroom.  In looking at behavior and expectation, there seems to be an obvious irony at work where we are creating an environment where we are communicating to our primary audience (students) through distancing tools like email, posts, websites, etc., while at the same time, expecting those same students to seek us out for personal conversations when they have questions.  

One area in my personal life to which I pay particular attention is how I communicate with my children.  It has always been a family practice to spend at least one hour before bedtime together.  Activities during that time typically include talking about our to get a cell phone for our 11 year old daughter, we were certain that with her phone might come rules and regulations, phone checks, data limits, etc., but that has not been the case at all.  If fact, while her communication with her friends has increased somewhat, she uses her devices responsibly.  I will say that our communication has changed somewhat in that my daughter and I have constant access to one another. Although I typically prefer face-to-face conversations, often, she chooses the mode through which she wants to communicate with me.  If she is in another room and wants to ask a question, she is likely to send a text message for an instant response.  If she needs my opinion on an outfit and hairstyle, she may use Facetime so that we can have a more intimate conversation.  In this particular case, I believe that the power has shifted somewhat to empower her because of mere access.

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I will admit that I have a love/hate relationship with popular social media tools.  For years, I have resisted partaking in this world because I felt, and still feel, that special moments in my life are ones to be cherished privately.  When something positive happens, I love to keep it to myself a bit to enjoy and when I feel ready to share, I do so very selectively.  Recently, I created an account on a popular social networking site because a few groups to which I belong was using this tool as a way to communicate with its members and I found that I was either missing a substantial amount of information or that someone would have to send a separate email to me. After dismissing prompts to share personal information like where I live, work, went to school, as well as my marital status, favorite movies, etc., I was then overwhelmed  with requests to include others in my “network.”  Do I have to accept?  Would anyone be offended if I didn’t?  It may sound trivial, but I felt like I had no choice but  to accept and include everyone who asked.  Dare I say, I felt powerless?  As time went by, I started to see things that others are posting–pictures of themselves doing fun and interesting things.  Should I also share pictures of things that I am doing?  Do I feel left out?  One might say that there is power in  being able to choose what we share, but do we fully choose or are our choices dictated by what others around us are sharing?  I have resisted to urge to upload pictures of my family’s most treasured moments, and have considered deleting my account several times.  At this point, I have decided to use it for the purpose which it was intended:  getting information from a few selected group.  I simply have to do a lot of scrolling.  Sometimes, though, I do pause to look at a picture or read a post.