I am addicted to my smartphone. And it’s making me depressed, destroying my creativity, ruining my attention span, and straining my in-person relationships. I’d venture to say that you are probably addicted to your smartphone, too. How do you feel about that? Is it negatively impacting your life? Recently, I’ve been trying to work on this (see “How to Break Up with Your Phone“), because as a prospective academic, I am really concerned about how my phone and technology usage is affecting my brain.
This may seem irrelevant, but stick with me.
The theme of this week’s readings was digital pedagogy. In short, the readings critiqued current online teaching and learning tools and strategies, citing the pitfalls of learning management systems, lengthy and boring online courses, and teaching methods that don’t adapt well to mobile technology as support for the idea that “twentieth century instructional methods just don’t work as well for busy, distracted 21st-century learners.” I agree with this sentiment. However, I am a little bit terrified of the recommendation that educators should take cues from those companies who “are excelling at captivating easily distracted, constantly connected people” (read: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…).
One of this week’s readings cites that 83% of millennials “literally sleep with their smartphones.” While this makes a compelling argument for educators who are trying to capture the attention of “21st-century humans,” I don’t want to sleep with my smartphone. And I don’t want my students to, either.
My last job was particularly taxing on my mental health. In an attempt to maintain some semblance of work-life balance, I turned off the work e-mail notifications on my phone, and generally did not check my work email outside of work hours. I found this profoundly decreased the amount of stress I felt about work when I wasn’t at work. That is, until one morning when I had just parked my car and was walking to catch the Metro for my hour-long commute when my boss called me asking where I was. Evidently, he had e-mailed me at 7:00pm the previous evening asking me to join him at a meeting at 7:30am. I was already 15 minutes late.
I turned my work e-mail notifications back on. I left my job about three months later.
I know this is anecdotal, and I know that given the current circumstances, we have all found ourselves online students and teachers perhaps for the first time ever (and we don’t really have a choice in the matter).
But I maintain the belief that tailoring online pedagogy to be more attractive to the 21st-century-human by modeling behaviors of the companies who are deliberately manipulating our attention is not an ethical approach. Our students are already constantly checking their phones to see who “liked” their last photo on Instagram. Do we really need to add to this stress by asking them to also maintain active Twitter discussions with their classmates? To ask them to “constantly check the Canvas site” for last minute updates on homework assignments? These practices do not support healthy relationships with technology, and they do not support healthy work-life balance. Our students should be able to step away from their devices, just as we request our family puts away their phones around the dinner table.
I know I sound a little bit like Ron Swanson. Obviously, we cannot ignore the world around us, and technology gives us tools and opportunities that we could have never had before. But I think that it is critical for us as educators to think very carefully about what tools we ask our students to engage with. Just because the collective attention span of millenials has dramatically decreased doesn’t mean we should continue to enforce that.
I am curious – what do you think? What are your ideas on training your students to be digitally responsible instead of just digitally connected learners? How can we make use of online tools but also set appropriate boundaries?