Teenagers and technology – a problem?

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Teenagers and technology. It can be hard for them to feel engaged in learning without it. Most teenagers live in an intensely stimulating environment, constantly distracted by advertising, music, games and social media. Much of their lives are lived online, and it is becoming harder than ever to engage many young learners in traditional schooling. However at the root of all this lies young people who are sensitive to their environment, well-informed and possessing a critical world view. Most have strong opinions about how they perceive the world works and what’s right and wrong, and we can help unlock that and stimulate learning.

So what can and do kids need to learn about? What can we discuss in class? What can we explore? We’ve come across some articles and issues in recent weeks that could be used as provocations or scenarios to spark engagement and thinking – do you have any others that might work?

Technology addiction and digital distraction is becoming a real challenge for teachers and schools. There also appears to be a growing number of critics of big tech. companies’ tactics in targeting young people with these distractions, with former employees of tech. companies coming together to fight the ‘addiction crisis’ with a ‘Truth About Tech’ campaign.

They argue that tech. companies are basically exploiting a loophole in human psychology to hook children on technology when they have not yet developed the internal locus of control required to resist it. Over years of technology use, companies can identify users’ online habits, likes and dislikes to understand and then target individuals’ unique addictions – far more effectively and more insidiously than tobacco companies ever did. As long as the online and technology space continues to be unregulated, we can expect the tactics and targeting of young people to continue and become more sophisticated.

How do we prepare children for this reality? How do we open their eyes to it and view this issue thoughtfully and objectively? How do we help them self-regulate?

This article from the World Economic Forum asks why wealthy tech. executives generally don’t allow their children to have access to technology, and if they do only for specific purposes. Do they know something we don’t?

Referenced within the article is research indicating the challenges that young people are facing now they are often immersed in technology almost every waking hour, resulting in significantly increased rates of depression and suicide. Also referenced is Bill Gates’s assertion that educational technology and personalised learning won’t be a ‘cure all’.

Gates advocates the use of technology in learning for specific purposes – what we at The Future Learning Project term ‘Focused use of technology for learning’. Thoughtless immersion of young brains in screen-based technology is proving problematic, and we observe (and experience) ever-growing challenges with digital distraction in many 121 device schools, along with lower rates of collaborative engagement in learning during technology-focused tasks.

Focused use of technology for learning can be extremely powerful in helping students make progress, but are schools and communities having vigorous discussions about how it’s used? We have access to this technology – to what learning purpose? Do we recognise that this is an emerging problem? Can we get ahead of it? If so, how?

Speaking of technology to (apparently) support learning, we bring you Focus 1, a wearable headband that measures students’ brainwaves and attention levels then provides feedback to their teacher on a dashboard in real time. Created by a company named Brainco, whose founder worked at the Centre for Brain Science at Harvard University, the device works by measuring brainwave patterns and then assigning a score that is supposed to determine how focused the student is.

This technology has secured about US$20 million in funding so far, suggesting interest in its potential, but there are stumbling blocks. One demonstration of the product has been labelled ‘cringeworthy’, and other scientists have raised doubts about whether it will actually work. Far more serious questions are emerging about what happens to the massive amounts of data that will be generated, who owns it, and what it will be used for.

Looking at the promotional video, we see a very traditional classroom setup, with tests, workbooks, teacher-focused instructional pedagogy and lots of hand raising. Instead of attempting to address student inattention by creating a more dynamic, collaborative environment with relevant and purposeful learning, technology is provided as the answer.

Is this the way to provide students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need? Apart from the technology, has anything actually changed in that classroom? Is technology enough?

This article via BBC Future has caught our attention, and it wasn’t the ‘millionaires’ reference in the title. It’s about how teenagers are using technology to expand a traditional form of DIY entrepreneurship and finding new expressions and ways to make money that didn’t exist even five years ago.

Video game design, live-streaming games, gaming competitions in newly-built eSport stadiums and training others to become gamers are all legitimate ways of building and sharing expertise within communities, helping others and making money. It’s big business too – gaming is worth USD$ 36 billion a year, and the article provides a good insight into how technology is creating wealth and opportunity in short timeframes.

Those who are successful at it caution others to stay in school and ‘get an education’, but opportunities will likely continue to open up in the wider industry as it continues to grow. Few will become millionaires, but it is heartening to see opportunities for entrepreneurship become more and more accessible.

Is digital entrepreneurship a skill that can be learned? Should students learn how to be entrepreneurs when they are young? If so, how?

This video has been doing the rounds – two 17 year olds trying to make a call using an old phone. One the one hand, funny. One the other, should we be worried about this loss of process knowledge? Does it even matter?

The faster we race forward, the more we leave the past behind. The sequence of technologies that led to our current understanding are becoming lost. What if we lost all current technical knowledge due to some global catastrophe? Would we need to start again at the very beginning, or could we pick up halfway if we still retain the knowledge of how to design, build and use technology like that in the old phone? Does losing process knowledge matter?

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at info@indigoschools.net or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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