Digital Tools and Social Responsibility

I remember when I was growing up sneakily watching TV shows or listening to music my parents didn’t approve of - good thing my mom doesn’t use the Internet, she won’t see this, I’m safe :-).  That’s about as complicated “digital tools” were back in the day.  Fast forward to today and it’s a whole different world with the Internet, devices of all shapes, sizes, and capabilities, in the hands of most kids.  The opportunity for kids to misuse digital tools is huge.  Who’s going to guide them?

I wrote a post back in March, Digital Natives Need Infrastructure, where I talked about one of our schools’ (Riverside Secondary) experiences with students using digital tools and the impact on the network.  When kids are bringing their personally owned devices (PODs) and you have a philosophy of openness (no blocking), things get interesting.  My post Learning with a class set of ipod touches tries to contemplate possible learning benefits and difficulties.  Dave Truss has an interesting perspective to share in the PODs are Comingimagesome good material to make you think about the coming wave.  We’ve got to get ready!

Anyway, that visit to Riverside prompted me to bring together all our secondary school Principals to try to get to a shared understanding of the “digital” issues they face in their schools and how we might work together to address them.  We met a few weeks ago and round-tabled to pull out the issues.  I’ve included a subset below.  We’re coming back together in June to prioritize the issues and to develop next steps with the goal to have some solutions for next school year.  Note that supplying more bandwidth is being addressed separately and doesn’t really solve these problems – just buys time.  We need solutions that are responsibility related in addition to technical improvements.

Have a read through these and see whether they resonate with you in your schools.  Basically, each Principal shared an issue, I recorded it, and we kept going around the table until no more issues surfaced.  Then we went back to the list and the person who shared the issue, provided clarification of what they meant.

2 Managing bandwidth - there's not enough2.1 lots of innovation + access - not enough bandwidth to support digitally based education programs; eg future enrolment is dropping for Riverside's digital immersion program due to frustrated students in current program
3 Teacher readiness for classroom management3.1 teachers / administrators all over the map on what to allow, how to manage digital tool use; we have not trained teachers to manage digital classrooms; technology is often a distraction / negative experience currently. 3.2 expectations are unclear for teachers - must they embrace technology?  they need core competencies.
4 Downloading of large volumes of content (students)4.1 large downloads are not educationally related
5 Should priority be given to laptops or handhelds5.1 Higher achievers use laptops productively.  Handheld devices not being used educationally.  5.2 Should we be asking kids with handhelds why they need wireless?  Limit use to educational purpose?  How is the handheld tied to classroom use?  5.3 Need tools to be able to easily / efficiently track / search a student's use if it is in question.
7 Societal supervision / social responsibility about technology7.1 We've lost the word "no".  At some point the adults are responsible to supervise student use - need to set expectations on what teachers / parents should do.  Need to qualify why student needs access (eg, handheld) and say "no" to some.  7.2 How to know use is inappropriate; how to follow-up when suspected (tools, easy).  All adults need to help (eg, smoking).
8 Student / family view technology as social license8.1 Technology is viewed as a "right", eg. kid texting during class - asked about it - says mom texting them and they have to respond.  8.2 Want safety like "Mothers against drunk driving" has had significant positive impact.  Now traffic fatalities due to drinking/driving have been surpassed by communications activities.
9 Absence of roles + responsibilities / norms for parents, kids, community, and police9.1 It is K12 (all levels) and community responsibility to set norms, to communicate them, and to educate the adults and kids.  9.2 We (SD43) need to own responsibility for this - it is our social reality - need to be proactive.  9.3 Social Responsibility Coordinator's role to develop programs to respond to this - District leadership is needed.
10 How does the District come up with a policy without impacting innovations10.1 Every school context is different - be careful to balance rules to flexibility
12 Producers vs. Consumers mentality12.1 Some teachers see technology from a consumer perspective vs a producer.  This drives drives choice on hardware needs / costs.  12.2 Students "mainly" into the coffee house consumer idea.  We need to shift to producer / educational view.  12.3 Social awareness - there is an appropriate time and place for different use and activities.
17 What is school's responsibility to help students / parents use technology safely / responsibly?17.1 eg, cell phone - sexting; facebook privacy
18 Adults in the building not modeling good use of technology18.1 teachers / administrators using cell phone in class / meetings.  18.2 doing personal work online during class / meetings.  18.3 off task use - work related but not on task in the present.  Is this just multitasking and is it okay?  sometimes?

What issues might you add to reflect what you’re facing in your schools around this topic.  Also, it would be helpful if you could share ideas you have on some solutions, or perhaps advice from your own experience.


  1. Brian,
    This list is great. It's current and of genuine concern as we 'open' our schools' access. There are 3 spheres of influence that I think need addressing: Teachers, Students, & Parents. We have the most influence with teachers and they have the most influence of students, together these two influence parents... but more and more I think these issues need to start with teachers! Actually I should say 'educators' not teachers as when we talk about:
    "3 Teacher readiness for classroom management"
    "18 Adults in the building not modeling good use of technology"
    What we really are talking about is leadership and educational leaders helping to point the way.
    Two of my posts come to mind, the older: and the newer: in which you add in a comment:
    "...I really think the battle is worth fighting carefully with the aim to remain open and use elegant solutions to mitigate the problems. And, we need to address poor online uses like any other unacceptable behaviour."

    My point (or is it 'our' point?): We can't address student attitudes and parent attitudes until we are modeling and effectively using technology ourselves.

  2. Dave: it's getting more challenging to keep things open... I was asked earlier this week to block FB for an entire school due to safety issues - bullying and potential violence is a FB fav. The off-task piece is also huge.

    I think some elegant technical solutions combined with early/regular education, modeling, and reasonable guidelines might provide the ingredients needed. We have our work cut out for us to create the magic potion... :-)

  3. I think that it's important for teachers and communities to discuss these issues. I had a student using an iPhone in my class yesterday. I walked over and he was typing notes into a Notes app. I was at a conference recently and the lady beside me was using instant messaging and I don't think that she was backchanneling. It is important to share oncepts of responsible and appropriate use to both teachers and students and to recognize that we must model the behavior that we expect from our students, and not only when they are looking at us.

  4. Damianne - absolutely. Very much like parenting - you want kids to ultimately be responsible not compliant. Being responsible isn't something that happens just when people are watching, it also occurs in private. That takes education, support, etc. Do you have any written guidelines that might be able to share?


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