Those horrible teenagers and their evil technology

I’m always troubled by the widely held opinion that high-school students cannot be trusted with their own personal devices in a classroom. I’ve heard how allowing students to use their phones in class will only lead to students getting into trouble. I’ve even heard that a BYOD approach does not contribute positively to the learning environment and that it gets in the way of the “real” learning. Obviously I disagree. And here’s why.

So often we are quick to fixate on what these horrible teenagers are doing with their evil technology instead of celebrating the incredible things they have created or have the potential to create. Yes, cyber bullying exists, and yes students will on occasion make poor choices with technology. But we ask our students to put their devices away (both at home and in our schools) and yet we somehow expect them to know how to use them appropriately – it doesn’t add up.

Two quotes from George Couros that I love, and have been popping up quite a bit in my Twitter feed today, effectively address this.

“Telling students to put away their devices sends the message that we do not trust them or value the way they learn.”George Couros

I tested this recently in my CGC1P0 – Issues in Canadian Geography class. I asked the students to predict how immigration to Canada might change by the year 2050. I purposely did not indicate to the students that they may use their own devices (but I didn’t say they couldn’t). I also did not tell them where they could find information to help formulate their opinion.

As I walked around the room some of the students had their phones out – here are some photos of what the horrible teenagers (13/14 year olds) were up to with their evil technology:

IMG_2657       IMG_2655       IMG_2656

I didn’t witness any horribleness. None. Why? Because the students had purpose for their BYOD, they understood the expectations of BYOD in our classroom, and they knew that I trusted them to use their devices. I’m not naive, I know that my students use their devices in class for purposes other than what is expected of them – of course they do. I see them using Snapchat and sending texts. So what? I mastered the art of covertly (at least I thought so) passing hand written notes when I was in high-school – was I a horrible teenager? As teachers we can address it when we believe it to be inappropriate, and the student learns from the experience.

If we don’t step up and show our students what appropriate use looks like, then we can’t be critical of how they use their personal devices – not now in our classrooms and not later when they enter the work force.

“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.” – George Couros

I think this also applies to our students. Technology, particularly a BYOD model, has the potential to empower students. We need to help our students move from being passive consumers of content and empower them to become producers of content. I’ve seen first hand a reluctant learner become engaged in a task because the technology that they held in their hand gave them a voice.

But the students need our help. We need to foster a BYOD environment in our classrooms and that doesn’t happen overnight. We need to stop limiting the potential of our students by asking them to put away a device that has transformed learning in the 21st century. Let’s stop assuming that they won’t have the capability to use their personal devices effectively and appropriately. Let’s get those phones out.