We all do this. We react to another’s reactions. We often react just as dramatically or irrationally as the reaction we are reacting to.
Yesterday, KCCI News reported on an Ames Community School District’s decision to shut down chat and video messaging within their Google Apps domain. And this was my immediate reaction.
If you read through the comments in my Facebook post, you’ll see that my reaction seems validated by some of the comments. I felt disgruntled by the news and sought to advocate for student rights! Yeah. Not so much. Then stepped in Mrs. “I’m going to be the adult here," or as her friends call her Rachel. She had a valid point. Our discussion surrounding this issue in Ames continued on through the morning. I decided that I wasn’t going to back down. In fact, I leaned in. Regardless of what reasonable explanations she approached me with, I turned it back around on the district. As the conversation came to a momentary conclusion, I realized that my issue wasn’t so much with the school district, or their decision even, but with how it was reported. If you go back and watch the video, it all seems a bit over dramatic and slightly staged. I’m not even sure why this would be news, let alone make the evening news. There are WAY too many details that aren’t explained here: Was the bullying and inappropriate behaviors wide-spread or isolated to a small group? Were the instigators and perpetuators of these behaviors identified? What additional digital citizenship curriculum has or hasn’t been provided to the teachers and middle schoolers? Did teachers receive any significant professional development on purposeful integration and classroom management strategies? Were teachers even using these in the classroom? And so on.
I don’t see this as a Chromebook problem. I see this as a behavioral problem and a teacher-readiness problem.
The Behavioral Problem
Bullying, sharing of sexually explicit images and content, inappropriate language, and the perpetuation of these acts are all behaviors. In fact, they are all behaviors that exist with or without technology. Technology has the power to amplify what we do. In this case it amplified a group of middle schoolers' propensity to show their age, their immaturity, and act, well, like middle schoolers. Their behaviors were obviously inappropriate and most (probably safe to say all) school districts have policies surrounding these types of misconduct. And I am confident that Ames will conduct themselves appropriately while dealing with the students.
But this isn’t a technology problem. Bullying is bullying; on or offline. Yes, as I mentioned before, it’s effects and extent are amplified by technology — but it is still bullying. To me, the news broadcast was about singling out the technology that led the students to do bad things.
Were the teachers ready for something like this? Have they been reinforcing digital citizenship and appropriate online behaviors since the initial open-house in August? I don’t know. The teacher who took center stage to declare that the Chromebooks were "distracting them from staying focused in the class" sure didn’t seem ready (at least not for a distraction). To me, distraction is distraction is distraction. Distractions have and will always exist. Mobile devices and computers are just the latest iteration of distraction (for young and old). I would like to know how much professional development was provided to teachers prior to students getting their devices. And, if PD was provided, how much actually focused on instructional and learning strategies as opposed to how-tos and trouble-shooting? While both would be great for teachers, if there is no practical connection to instructional practices and student learning, the devices will remain a distraction — especially in classrooms where they aren’t being used regularly or appropriately (appropriately could be replaced with effectively, purposefully, relevantly, among other things).
And I’m not blaming the teachers. My concern is with what preparations were made to support teachers with such a transition.
All that said, I’m not sure I can say that I would have reacted differently. In fact, looking back, I think Ames’s reaction was measured and appropriate. The article even states that this may be just a temporary suspension of chat and video functions. They didn’t take away all of the devices; they didn’t suspend all of the student accounts; they didn’t blame the technology. Ames (hopefully) has only momentarily turned off the chat features to take a better look at how students are and should be using that particular tool, not necessarily the entire device.
I’m in a role now that shouldn’t be governed by knee-jerk reactions or judgmental overreactions. I have to be in the details to better understand the big picture. I don’t know all of the details here and I probably misreacted (I just made that word up) to the bigger picture. I actually hope to speak with Ames in the near future to discuss this situation and their course of action. This is a bigger deal than just one small school district in Iowa. These behaviors are happening all over the country (on and offline) and our teachers aren’t provided with the time and professional development they need to make these big changes in their classrooms.
What would you have done?