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That Sound You Hear Is the Rush of Publishers Digitizing Your Classroom

When my daughter was in middle school, not many years ago, cell phones were strictly forbidden, though most of the students carried them. They could have them in their backpacks, but there were not to been seen during school. As a matter of fact, they were considered so toxic to student development that kids were not allowed them to be used on school property even after school hours. Needless to say, this draconian rule was broken on a regular basis.

At the school where I currently teach cell phones are discouraged during class hours, but at the same time, teachers are discouraged from taking them from students to prevent the possibility that the phone get damaged while in the teachers possession, leaving the school liable. At best, it is a stalemate.

Some schools are taking a more aggressive approach, actually making cell phones a part of the curriculum. In North Carolina a downloadable math program has shown great promise, helping students achieve impressive gains on math tests. Some students are even considering the possibility of a career in mathematics.

According to a Pew Research study, 73% of all high school and middle school students now carry cell phones with them to school. (My experience says this number is low. Of the paltry few that don’t have them, 100% of those wish they had them.) Additionally, eBook readers, tablets and other devices are on the rise. Some with school board support.

One of the wars school boards are encouraging device utilization is with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Internet access. The idea is that taking such an approach will save the schools from supplying them from their limited budgets. However, this rush toward including new technology is not without some concerns from the teachers themselves. 87% believe that much of the new technology does more to distract than teach and has the potential to lead to shortened attention spans. Another 60% say that students often have a hard time identifying credible sources.

Teachers recommend using caution in introducing new technology in the classroom so that we can minimize these ill effects. Of course, a hug part of the Common Core program that is being rolled out in most states involves making more use of technology and therein lays one of the criticisms against it: many school boards will likely suffer under the burden of having to supply new and expensive technology. By the same token, it is easy to see why publishers would be so exuberant about making technology a national standard because they stand to make huge profits in the process.

Albert Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” He may have been referring to something else when he said that, but it certainly is true in the case of the current rush to digitize education. Some caution is called for; some restraint to make sure we get it right the first time makes sense when the stakes are as high as they are. As teacher, parents and taxpayers we have a right to insist that these things be done right rather than plowing headlong into something that could have deleterious consequences.