“Growing Up Online”

There is no denying that we live in a digital culture – smartphones, tablets, and I mean products like Leap for only $70. The film, Digital Nation, looked into the digital culture we live in and examined the risks and possibilities it brings. I love seeing all the possibilities that technology has presented us, but I also feel like it is drifting us away from some fundamentals. Take for instance the gaming culture where people rent chairs in an internet cafe for hours, days, and weeks. Everyone packed in a room like sardines is not healthy. Students are developing gaming addictions and some people are even dying from it. The gaming culture is sedentary and does not encourage movement. People sit and consume energy drinks because they can’t afford to sleep. Social skills are being replaced by netiquette and we are losing touch with the community of physical beings around us. Our communities are being replaced with virtual communities who we may never see face to face.

There are students in the world who go to school on the internet. They never need to leave home to go to school. Instead, they log into the network and listen to lectures, participate in experiments, and do their homework all through the internet. While the students are learning from specialized instructors and media, what about socialization? I can’t help but wonder what the digital culture is doing to our socialization.
We are a society of instant gratification. Whatever we need to find out, whatever we need, we can access through the internet in an instant. What we want, when we want. What does this do to community? What does this do for collaborating? I have met so many students who are not as socially mature because they have not had the social experience, even in high school. It is easy to hide behind the computer and go unnoticed. I have had students ask me if they could create an online presentation instead of presenting in front of the class because they have social anxiety. I can’t but wonder if there is a correlation between the amount of time students spend online and their level of social anxiety/distress. It would seem like there would be a correlation.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a digital age and our students are products of this digital culture. We can’t avoid it and we really need to utilize it, but we can’t rely on it. There are teachers who refuse to “buy into the technology fad.” Rude awakening: It is not a fad. You think smartphones are going somewhere? Only to be replaced by geniusphones, if ever. We are moving forward with technology. It is scary and exciting at the same time. Karle and Colleen’s string timeline of the internet comes to mind. I feel we are only just beginning and have yet to really tap into it. I think we are in the age of just realizing that there is an endless possibility in front of us. The not knowing is exciting to some and terrifying to others.
Bottom line is technology is changing our everyday lives. I no longer need a key to get in and out of my car or even drive my car. We have phones that talk back to us. We can access anything from anywhere. But walk into the classroom and everything still looks the same as it did in the prehistoric times prior to the internet. Internet/Technology has changed the way we think, process, and do things. We can’t afford to maintain things as they have been. We need to progress with the changes in time. One thing that keeps resonating over and over again is the idea of teaching students how to use technology efficiently, effectively, and responsibly. They are growing up with technology but not being taught how to use it and I think this is one of the most important things we need to tackle as teachers. We expect so much of our students. I’m guilty of it. I have questioned why my students who can find ways to unblock websites that the schools block, can’t conduct a fairly intermediate search of a research question.
Students learn how to do practical things on the internet because they learn through trial and error. They have been learning how to maneuver around blocked websites since grade school, but they have never been taught how to use the internet for education purposes. Other than typing up their papers, how have they truly utilized what the internet technology has to offer? They have yet to scratch the surface of the possibilities of the internet. The internet needs to be repurposed for their lives.
I remember the first day of class when I was told that I had to sign up for Twitter and use it for this class. I thought I had just entered an alternate universe. This concept was so foreign to me. I had only known Twitter as the medium for my students to tell each other random, unnecessary comments throughout their day. I could never conceive the idea of using Twitter for education purposes. I gave it a go and now I can’t even picture Twitter being used for any other purposes. That is what needs to be done with the internet and technology when it comes to our students. We need to repurpose it and demonstrate to them that there are so many other means and uses than they even know.
It’s an exciting time for education. It’s a challenging time, yes, but its also an exciting time because change is in front of us. I see the people who I have journeyed with this summer and I am excited to see all the change and innovation we will each bring to wherever we are. I have high hopes for all of us and I know we will wear the MAET with great pride.
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