A More Nuanced Conversation about Technology and Learning?

Note: We have just postponed the DLI Event until March 19 due to inclement weather. But I'm eager to push the conversation along, so I'm posting this now anyway.

I’m thinking that more Trinity parents heard Monday’s Diane Rehm Show than would normally be the case, since we had a holiday.  I was driving back from the State Swim Meet and turned it on.

Dame Susan Greenfield (a neuroscientist) was going on about how digital technologies are leaving their (mostly unwelcome) marks on our brains.  This week Trinity is bringing an Apple educator to promote our Digital Learning Initiative, and it occurred to me that these two events might be a sort of Point-Counterpoint: Trinity saying let’s enhance the digital experience of our young ones, Greenfield warning us to watch out.  

I have several thoughts about this, and the first is that this way of thinking about things is much too simple.  Dame Greenfield is not waving us off of technology, and Trinity is not unconcerned about the “unprecedented effects” of the digital world on young minds and souls.  A more nuanced conversation is what is needed, and that is what I hope we are having at Trinity. I know that the Apple educator who is coming is having those kind of conversations wherever she goes.

We have been reading things like Greenfield for years now.  I think it was three years ago that we held a faculty reading group that worked our way through Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows.  Carr’s book might be described as a fascinating exploration of the sometimes deleterious effects of digital experience on the brain by someone who knows he could not have learned what he wanted to say without the internet but could not have written without getting away from it.  Like I said, nuance is the key.  Anyway, my point is that Trinity went into this DLI with its eyes wide open to the challenges of raising attentive, courteous, empathetic, risk-taking, gritty kids in a digital age.  

I was a more than a little frustrated by some of the Greenfield interview.  A teacher called in and asked how digital technologies might be best incorporated into the classroom, and Greenfield said something like “technology can never be a substitute for an inspiring teacher.”  This we knew already, and it would have been helpful if Greenfield had suggested some particular ways an inspiring teacher might use technology to instruct.  Another low point for me was when a camp director called in and said that they had recently reversed their policy about cell phones: They used to ban them, but now they were experimenting with teaching kids to use them in moderation.  Greenfield used this moment to get on another soap box, and I thought she (and Rehms) missed a wonderful opportunity.  I wish they had asked the director to share just how they managed that moderation, what it looked like, and how they thought it was working.  Moderation is almost always more complicated (I won’t say harder) than abstinence, and we need to learn from each other.  I’m pretty sure that the answer to how we teach our children to use technology at Trinity School is more about moderation than about abstinence.  

But there was one golden moment for me in the interview, and I wish every Trinity family could hear that part (towards the end of the show).  Greenfield was making the point that we are not doomed to run like lemmings off of some digital cliff, that we can impact culture and its impact on us.  She suggested three very simple ways that people (especially families) could counteract some of the more negative effects of digital immersion.  

Read.  Read to and with our children.  I think she (and I) have visions of a couch and a book with real pages to turn.  I think too of our Lower School teachers reading to our students as they eat their lunches.

Eat Together.  Family dinners (tech free) are a discipline and a joy we can all cultivate. Likewise, Division Directors and teachers at Trinity can shape the way we eat together at school, to promote wise and moderate use of technology.

Exercise.  Physical exercise, whether in organized sports or just time to play.  If you think of it, the time that our children spend on the court or the field is perhaps the most unconnected, low-tech time in their day.

These simple suggestions seem profoundly true, relevant, and helpful. As Trinity moves into a more robust employment of technology for teaching and learning, let us all--teachers and parents especially--tie them as symbols on our hands and bind them on our foreheads.

Thus may we be a Once and Future School.


Dean Freck said…
Hi Chip,
I come across some interesting articles about entrepreneurship and venture capital in my work. I am forwarding this link to you to check out this article in Tech Crunch Magazine (http://techcrunch.com/2015/02/18/2-billion-blackboard-jungle/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cb_daily). It is a quick read and has some good links to other school districts that are pursuing a digital initiative. Since it deals mainly with public school initiatives some of the concerns debated probably do not apply to Trinity. However, the concern that putting technology in the hands of all students (i.e. all kids grades 6-12) may not actually level the playing field but widen the levels of skills can apply to any school. I know Trinity is working to manage this, and I would propose (if there is not a plan already) that we consider how we will measure student success and the equality of skill development (if possible) as the Trinity Digital Initiative begins. Best regards,
Chip Denton said…
Dean, thanks for this lead. I've shared it with the members of our Education Committee, and we are going to spend some time at an upcoming meeting talking about how we assess our DLI. You're right that many of the public school metrics (school attendance, e.g) are not as helpful to us, but there are good ideas here. Thanks. Chip

Popular Posts