From Dittoes to Digital

As I look out my window this morning, I am struck by the beauty of the dazzling sunshine reflecting off of the multiple solar panels that cover our sunroom. The cozy warmth of the wood stove, coupled with the heat produced from newly installed panels, makes sitting and reading a divine experience. As I enjoy the warmth created by our “solar garden,” I have to laugh at myself. Once a person who shunned the computer in favor of paper and pen, I now enjoy the luxury of technological advancement from the comfort of my recliner. What changed?

In reflecting on the topic of technology and media, I am in a quandary. I love the energy of technology: instant information at my fingertips, connections around the world through a simple Facebook contact, or receiving a text from my daughter overseas in the middle of the night. And how efficient our communication has become! I remember when we first had our Apple II computer; I needed a cheat sheet to keep track of all the instructions, and I was convinced that I would continue to do any creative writing in my notebook. At the time, I felt that the computer was too formal, too institutional looking, and I liked the flow of the black pen on crisp, white, notebook paper. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the efficiency of the computer won out. What teacher (here I’m dating myself, but not by many years) would ever want to go back to sitting up late at night carefully designing those ditto sheets for class the next day? Not me. My memories of writing report cards by hand are far from favorable: If I made an error, I’d have to fix it with white-out, blue-out, and yellow-out. Younger teachers may laugh at how primitive  it all was—certainly, technology has made education more “cutting edge”—or has it?

The reality is that our world is swiftly changing, and in order to remain relevant as Christian educators, we must stay abreast of these changes. In a recent presentation on social media, Karl Nielsen, English and media teacher at Durham Christian High School, challenged parents and students to be knowledgeable and responsible in their use of Facebook. He commented that, “technology giveth and taketh away”—a rather astute statement. Because it is so easy to access information, we teachers need to teach our youth how to filter and communicate positively and safely.  Nielsen stated that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world . . . the average high school student has 950 ‘friends,’ and the average elementary student has 350 ‘friends. Having ‘friends’ becomes a status symbol, and younger students especially often have no awareness of the implications of their messages, which may lead to some potentially serious social issues.

In their article, “High-Tech Cruelty,” authors Hinduja and Patchin cite the story of one fourteen-year-old student who noted that “being bullied over the Internet is worse [than being bullied in person].  It’s torment and it hurts” (49). The authors conclude that “the most important preventive step schools can take is to educate the school community about responsible Internet use” (50).

I confess that I enjoy using Facebook. My children find it humorous, but my favorite thing to do online is play Scrabble. You can take your time to make your move, and you only have to make one move a day—a relaxing way to decompress after a busy day at school. While it’s fun to chat with “friends” and look at photos of relatives living far away, the reality is that social media usually does not consist of meaningful communication or dialogue. How can you have a heart-to-heart conversation with dozens of ‘friends’? In truth, I’d much rather meet with my friend in the coffee shop or walk together along the lake.

So what do we do with all of this at the start of 2012? Are the effects of new media on education today really so much different from the effects of the printing press in the fifteenth century? I can imagine teachers at that time fearing that the book would usurp oral tradition. True, with advent of the printing press the nature of education changed dramatically, as it became available to more people. At the same time, much remained the same. I think we need to stop sometimes and take a deep breath. History has taught us that regardless of technological advances, our children love hearing and telling stories. They love to write with rainbow colored markers on all types of paper. And they like to experiment with different media.

Social blogs (such as can be a great way to help with reading and writing, even in the primary grades, because there is a purpose to the communication. According to Stuart Foxman, blogs, twitter, Skype, e-communication, and other technological devices are important tools for teaching the curriculum. Foxman states, “These tools help ensure that they [children] learn in a more meaningful, fun, and engaging way” (40). If this is so, in what ways do these platforms work to make education more engaging and meaningful? Conversely, how can we educators learn to discern which tools will effect positive engagement and which will not?

Recently, a young high school teacher shared with me that she could not stand the Smart Board in her classroom as she found it too restrictive. Other teachers, however, cannot imagine life without it. When considering the implementation of new media in our classrooms, it is important to remember that like the student, the teacher is an individual with his or her particular talents and style. We must learn to balance new and old: to enjoy the diversity offered us by the variety of new media at our disposal, and at the same time continue to use the tried and true. I am a firm believer that cursive writing and the humble pencil need to stay in the curriculum alongside up-and-coming technological tools. Yet perhaps the best educational tool is something that spans all eras: the ability to laugh at oneself. Remember to laugh at yourself when you are unable to solve a technical glitch and your second-grade student says: “No, teacher, this is what you need to do.”

Works Cited

  • Foxman, Stuart“Tricks for Tweets: Using Social Media in the Classroom.” Professionally Speaking. December 2011: 39–43.
  • Hinduja, Sameer, and Patchin, Justin W. Patchin. “High-Tech Cruelty.” Educational Leadership. February 2011: 48–52.