Screen Zombies

By | January 3, 2012

A picture of my cousin, circa 2008. She was a little distracted.

I often worry that my 10-year-old daughter spends too much time looking at screens. Her attention magnets: her laptop, iPhone, cable TV, Wii, Nintendo DS and a recently gifted Kindle Fire. If it’s not one, it’s the other.

But getting on her case about too much screen time basically makes me a hypocrite. I spend most of my waking and working hours deeply engaged with screens, suffering from a special form of social media/multiple browser tab-induced/iPhone/TweetDeck ADD.

Still, like most parents, I’m concerned about my daughter’s (and my own) ability to balance a healthy online and offline life.

Antero Garcia‘s article “When Traditional Policy Goes Bad: Teen Social Use of Mobile Devices in High Schools” details the difficulty high schools are facing in curbing mobile phone use during classroom time.

Students in the Los Angeles high school Garcia observed are permitted to use mobile devices during lunch and “nutrition” times. But most students don’t want to be interrupted or distracted with screens during those times. It is their opportunity to socialize face-to-face. Garcia wrote:

“Students spend much of their mobile media use in classes to socialize with each other, update each other on the latest chisme, and discuss meeting places and upcoming activities. With all of this organizing, planning and chatting in place, teens don’t intend to waste the precious minutes of lunch in isolated relationships with their devices. This time, instead is for talking with friends and socializing without these activities mediated by handheld devices.”

So there is hope that some of our young people still prefer to communicate with other human beings in person.

As a college professor, one way I’m successfully able to keep my students off their email, IM, Twitter and Facebook accounts during class is to make screen time part of the learning process. Of course I do lecture and lead discussion, but only for about a third of class. The rest of the time is about active learning: purposefully having the students engage with their devices and teaching them digital skills, problem solving, collaboration and critical thinking.

Let’s face it: monologues, books and other traditional modes of teaching/communication face insurmountable competition from shiny screens with buttons and constant connection with friends ready to respond. This technology is not going away. I believe school districts have no choice but continue to try and regulate them with teenagers, but how effective and realistic will our education system be if it continues to marginalize technology that is now a constant?

We teachers must figure out ways to incorporate the thing that is so distracting into the pedagogy. Meet students where they are and take the lead. Research, reading, audio, video, interactive presentations and online quizzes, collaboration via social media. There are so many possibilities.


Beverly on January 14, 2012 at 6:33 am.

Cool blog!

April on April 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm.

I’m happy to read your blog

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