Friday, June 19, 2015

What's the Difference Between a Smartphone and a Piece of Paper?

Earlier this summer, I sat through consecutive days of eight-hour long professional development training. It was beautiful outside, but I was stuck in a board room with no windows at a sterile table and sitting on stiff plastic chairs. What's worse, the district failed to provide snacks or drinks.

Given my torturous circumstances, throughout most of the sessions, I alternated between texting (my wife and my realtor) and doodling on the training handouts. Honestly, I devoted very little time to listening to the actual presenter.

Keep that short anecdote in mind as you glance through this story about Pablo Sandoval, a Boston Red Sox third baseman who missed playing time because he "liked" a few photos on Instagram...during the game.

What do these two stories have in common?

One might say that society's blatant addiction to both mobile devices and social media is the root cause of such behavior.

Conversely, others might claim that these instances are just innocent means of relieving boredom and that there is no harm done in the long run. (At least Panda was in the bathroom when his discretion took place.)

What I believe is true in both cases is that the allure of retreating into the realm of texting and social media overpowers the content and context of our respective moments. While Sandoval was taking a short "pit stop" during his team's half inning at the plate (it was far from his turn to bat), mine was a means of escaping the drudgery of "Grading Strategies in the K-12 classroom" in a room with no AC.

The crux of the issue falls under these two categories:

Relevance & Accountability

In Sandoval's case he was not immediately needed at the on-deck circle. And, well, nature called apparently. He saw neither the relevancy of his presence in the dugout at that particular time, nor was he held to any kind of accountability to be anywhere or complete any certain task. By all accounts, he grabbed his phone on his way to the latrine and browsed pics of pretty girls while doing his duty.

This is one way for a teacher to
alleviate inflation and the high cost
of insurance.
In my situation, I was part of a stand-and-deliver PD that was at once interesting and mind-numbingly boring. When I was not engaged in "meaningful table discussion" I was busy texting, Tweeting, and Facebooking with 90% of my attention. To maintain my "interest level" in the session content, I reserved a healthy 10% devotion to laughing at his jokes and chiming in with well-timed commentary. In short, I exhibited a faux engagement that allowed me to fly just under the called-to-the-principal's-office radar.

But now, let's get back to the original question about how smartphones and paper are the same. (Stick with me and you'll see my connection.)

While I am busy tapping out messages on my Android during a PD day, the presenter might see my actions and interpret them as either offensive disinterest (at best) or blatant insubordination (at worst). But what if he glances over and sees me frantically scribbling on the handouts of his PowerPoint slides? Will he automatically assume that I am jotting down salient information about his content or reminders of action steps that I can take to ensure fair grading in my classroom?

In fact, when I was not texting, I was turning his bullet points (not the points he was making, but the actual icon he used as bullets) into a variety of faces showcasing different emotions. A worthwhile pursuit indeed, but it had nothing to do with giving grades from inaccurate forms of assessment.

It comes down to this...teachers get upset if a kid zips out a quick text message or two, but has no problem if the same kid is seen doodling all over his paper while daydreaming about hitting the winning shot at the game that night.


Key Points:

#1) If your content (no matter how important it is) and delivery methods too often result in students drooling on desks, staring aimlessly out the window, or escaping into cyberspace, the problem may not be them. Remember that relevance is vital to engagement and learning.

#2) The definition of irony: A training on student engagement that is delivered in a sage-on-the-stage format, complete with presentation slideshow and handouts and lots and lots of lecture. Educators speak about ensuring that lessons are interactive and full of student voice and choice...but rarely do they practice what they preach. If the operational theory is that adults can handle the drudgery of sit-n-get, well, they are wrong. PD participants and students alike must be held accountable to the content of trainings and lessons respectively. Give them a job, specific or general, and they are more likely to do it. Let them to that job in a way that is engaging for them??? That is educational gold!

#3) Digital note-taking and reflection is allowed and even encouraged at tech conferences across the world. Why should a classroom setting be any different? Honestly speaking, kids should be Tweeting and posting and messaging to the whole world about the ideas and concepts they are learning in school. The difference between digital tools and paper is that there is ongoing evidence of activity in the cyber world. Tweets and posts are out there for all to see, while writing on paper can more easily be altered or destroyed and never make it beyond the walls of a classroom. Consider it an opportunity for students (and teachers) to learn and practice digital citizenship instead of just assuming that kids are always taking notes properly.

#4) Whereas paper products end up in one of three places (garbage can, bottom of the backpack, or, if they are lucky, stuck to the fridge) digital products have the capability to continue on. That, along with the widely-accepted notion that technology increases student engagement, ensures that students are both paying attention to delivery and acting on what they have learned. Can you say the same thing, Mr. I-was-a-teacher-but-found-I-could-make-more-money-in-conducting-PD-across-the-country?

#5) By encouraging students to explore and share their thoughts on social media (Twitter hashtag chats, for example) or via a variety of other digital means (Today's Meet is phenomenal), we are, in my opinion, meeting students in their arena, but causing them to play our game, so to speak. That, my friends, is the ultimate goal of today's educators.

Now, put your phone down and get back to your training about "Common Core Math Strategies that Grow Kids."

After all, there will be a paper survey to fill out and leave on your table at the end. You don't want to let anyone down, do you?

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