The world of technology can be hard for many to navigate. Add it to a classroom and it adds a world of possibilities and pitfalls.
Today many students, from elementary school, right up to high school have smartphones and other devices. These can be a great tool for communication with parents, research and safety. JoAnne Akerboom says the responsible use of these devices has to be a joint effort of students, educators and especially parents.
The biggest thing is for the parent to be aware of it,” she said. “It is the same thing as a parent putting a package of cigarettes in a kid’s hand, sending them off to school expecting us to be responsible to make sure the kid doesn’t smoke. It’s the same thing, put a phone in their hand, send them off to school and we are supposed to look after it? I think we have to have a partnership here.”
Akerboom completed her Masters with her paper entitled Parental awareness and interest in their child’s use of social media: A case study at St. Anthony’s School.
Her project actually supports work that has been undertaken by the school division to deal with issues and promote healthy student relationships in the age of social media.
“The goal of this case study was really to provide more information to Christ the Redeemer because they had already started on an initiative to develop curriculum for the classroom,” she explains. “This isn’t Alberta Education mandated, but we have seen a lot of issues and principals in our school community have said ‘we want to see something done.’”
She says parents do see it is their responsibility to be the primary person in a child’s life when looking at how to use social media and electronics.
“Parents are the number one educators of their children and the schools are there to support that, so if there are challenges that parents are facing they don’t know how to deal with, that’s where the schools do have a role to support that,” she said.
Her work showed parents are very aware of the positive and negative of social media. An interesting point is while they are aware, they are often the ones who are learning.
“We are the digital immigrants, the kids are digital natives, they know more than we do, they know how to use better than we do so we have to learn with them,” said Akerboom.
Like it or not, smartphones are everyday tools for students and adults, be it for scheduling, communication and research. Akerboom says for example classrooms in France have completely banned the phones and the effects on academics are positive. Christ the Redeemer School does not have a blanket policy for technology in the classroom.
“We don’t have a set policy on this, nor will we, because our division feels that you know your school, you know your students, you know your community, you decide what is appropriate,” she said.
In the classroom at St. Anthony’s Akerboom says in the elementary school, the phones don’t enter the classroom and no technology is allowed during recess.
At the junior high and high school levels, she explains the school is taking the approach of wanting to teach students how to use technology responsibly.
“At this end, (the junior high and high school) they can bring their phone in and it is put on the corner of their desk in airplane mode, so no there is no sound. It is a dark black box,” she said. “There are times in the classroom when they want to read a book they have online for example. The teachers want to teach them to use it responsibly because it is a tool.”
One of the biggest concern she has when social media is not used responsibly is students lose the ability to interact. Since the dawn of the technology age, family time has dropped by one- third.
“Children are more connected to their friends through electronic devices. But what happens? They lose their humanity. They lose their ability to have body language, vocal tone, and they are losing their ability to look someone in the eye and have a conversation. They are losing the ability to talk to each other,” she said.
In response, Christ the Redeemer School Division has begun to focus on #relationshipsinadigitalage.
“We are focusing on developing healthy relationships as a way to combat what is coming out negatively from all of this screen time,” said Akerboom.
“It’s not to say that all technology is bad-not at all. Technology can be an incredibly wonderful tool, but it can also be an incredibly destructive tool very quickly.”