How often have you been intimidated by new technology that comes out?  Maybe it’s getting a new phone or a new laptop, or learning how to use a tablet for the first time.  There’s always that learning curve that we are a little anxious about overcoming so that we can actually USE the tool for our benefit, rather than be overtaken by it.  When it comes to technology in education, the same reaction often applies.  As new technology comes out, our schools are often 2-3 years behind in embracing it within our schools.  Which of course, means that it’s outdated from the minute that it arrives.  But our own districts go through apprehension as they try to figure out what it all means and how it can be used as a tool for learning.  So, with that understanding, it makes my next sentence a little more meaningful.  Our schools need to stop blocking technology and figure out how to use it as a pathway for learning.

We need to begin embracing technology as a learning tool and not blocking it from the fear of what our students might do with it.  As I stated in Tuesday’s post, when we prohibit the use of things like YouTube and Twitter, we are encouraging their use without our guidance.  Students will whip out their phones (and if you think a ban on cell phones is going to stop them, think again) and tweet, post a facebook update and record a video to post on YouTube 5-10 times a day during school.  Do you really want them doing that without knowing what they’re posting?  By embracing those tools, as well as cell phones and other digital devices and teaching our students how to use them well, we are enabling them to be excellent digital citizens.  It’s like not teaching sex ed in schools at all and thinking that because we didn’t teach it, kids are going to do it.  With the rate of teenage pregnancies, we know that’s not true.  Perhaps digital bullying could be hampered by teaching our students how to use the internet safely and make better decisions to keep themselves safe.

Here’s a few suggestions for using technology as a tool for learning in our schools:

1. Digital Citizenship Course – Why not have a course on what it means to be a digital citizen, how to protect your identity online and how to use social media tools effectively for communication and collaboration?  Our students are certainly using these tools on their own time…let’s teach them how to use them more beneficially as they grow into a global community member.

2. Using Social Media Tools for Learning – Embedding Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Diigo and other social media sites as options for our students to turn in assignments, engage in conversations, research collaboratively and creatively share their work throughout a variety of courses allows for unique opportunities to truly integrate across content areas while teaching how to use current tools that are available to everyone worldwide.

3. Put students in the driver’s seat.  Many times my students discover the latest apps and websites that have incredible potential for relevant teaching opportunities before I do.  Allow them to share these tools with you, explore them yourself and then have a class “show and tell” of tools that could be helpful for any given project you’re currently working on.  Students will enjoy taking ownership of their own learning process and you’ll gain a whole new host of tools you may not have known existed.

Many schools have YouTube blocked for student safety, and I understand the whole “inappropriate ads” thing on that platform.  There are obviously other options out there such as schooltube and teachertube, but they really aren’t as effective because their systems are still trying to catch up to YouTube.  I’d recommend trying TED-ed, which uses videos that teachers submit and provides questions directly about each video that students can answer online.  There are no inappropriate ads on this site, and you still get to have access to all YouTube videos for learning.  You’ll need to get your district to unblock YouTube, however, and TED-Ed suggests using a petition that will help you get the ball rolling there.

It’s time that we acknowledge our role as true educators in an open digital society and help our students to understand and use these tools to their benefit, rather than getting caught in unsafe practices.  But to do that, we need stop our own unsafe practice of blocking these sites ourselves.  As always, responsibility goes both ways.