Monday, July 20, 2009

Digital Vacationer

Last week, I was on vacation at our cottage in Eagle River in northern Wisconsin. The weather was pretty good, but we had a few days of rain. We had brought along a cellular provider's router to test to see if we could get Internet service there. We had no signal and no Internet for the week. While I too enjoy a day or two of "electronics" vacation, I found that going a whole week without the Internet in easy reach was difficult. I am so into the habit of going to the computer for easy access to information that I felt I was "back in time" using an outdated phone book to try to gather information. Staying connected with my family and friends was difficult at best. I could consider myself to be a "Digital Vacationer".

Upon returning from vacation, my first task was to fire up the home computer and check my email and social networking sites e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Ning. You may have heard of Marc Prensky's terms of "Digital Native" and "Digital Immigrant". Digital natives are those who were born into the age of home computers and other electronics. To them, life is not life without these electronics. These are the students and young teachers in today's schools. The Digital Immigrants, on the other hand, are people who grew up in homes and schools without computers and modern electronics. They have learned to use computers similar to a person who learns a new language when they move to a new country. These are many of the parents and veteran teachers.

I have always considered myself neither a "Digital Native" nor a "Digital Immigrant". To me, I would be considered a DBL, "Digital Bilingual". While I can remember the days of little electronics, I feel very comfortable in today's digital age. I can train others on how to use technology. I can use the technology with ease in my classroom. I use technology on a daily basis for my personal and professional life. I even wired my own home when we built it. Perhaps that is why I felt like a "Digital Vacationer" last week. As I was reflecting on this, I realized that perhaps that is how our students feel at school each day.

Most schools do not have 1:1 computer programs. Many do not allow students with their own computers to bring them to school and connect to the Internet. Unless a student has a study hall and can get a pass to the library or a lab, they very likely are without Internet access all day at school. I know many schools where the policy is a maximum of 5 lab sign ups per class per YEAR! Depending on who a student has for a teacher and which classes he or she is enrolled in, students can actually go weeks without touching a computer at school.

But what are they doing once they go home from "digital vacation" at school? As soon as class is dismissed, out come the cell phones and the students are texting. At home, student flock to computers to do homework (we hope) as well as socially connect with others. I have heard many comments from educators that what they do on computers is a waste of time. I challenge them to watch a teenager use a computer over time. They are searching for information relevant to them, evaluating the quality of the information and connecting with others.

Social learning is a very powerful tool, both with and without technology. If we want to get students engaged, let's use the "digital" social learning tools that they love to use. Let's build safe and purposeful social learning networks within our schools so students don't have to be on "digital vacation" during the school day. Let's get going on 1:1 laptop learning or at least allow those who have laptops to bring them to school and get on the Internet. They can share with those who don't have one! I would love it if at least half of my students brought their own laptop to school! That would open a ton of doors for their learning! I challenge you to move forward and end the "digital vacations" in our schools!