Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From the Archives: Trust

Originally posted March 22, 2009

Do you trust your students?

A lot of the debate around the manageability of a paperless classroom has to do with trust. Of course there are going to be times when students are caught off-track doing something they aren't supposed to be doing. They are kids, after all. And they've gotten into trouble like this long before the advent of 1:1 computing. But what do you do now that instead of a student sneaking in a comic book to history class, the student's laptop is connected to thousands of comic books all accessible in class?

Many teachers would say: take the comic book away. But, in the case of 1:1 computing, that amounts to taking away the Internet. At which point you have to ask yourself, "What's the point of 1:1 computing?"

The laptop is not a glorified word processor. It's a connection tool. It connects students to the Web in real time. That connection is the point of the whole thing.

None of this 'paperless' mumbo jumbo would mean a darned thing if it were just a matter of saving some paper and being able to use a couple cool software programs in class.

Rather, 'paperless' is really synonymous with 'connected'. And that's what our students are facing: the challenge of being connected. It is a physical fact in the sense that they have instant access to mass amounts of information. It is also an ethical fact in the sense that what they do online and who they interact with can have either greatly beneficial or greatly harmful outcomes.

So in a very real way, the manner with which we address issues of trust in the classroom with regard to the use of the Internet will have a definite effect on the way in which our students are both physically and ethically acclimated to the Digital Age.

So are you ready to take away those comic books?

What kind of message do you think it will send to students to deny them access to information in the name of educational discipline? By the time they are high school seniors, most have read either Orwell or Huxley or Heller. Do you think they can't make the connection? Can you?


Do your students trust you?

Teachers often tend to think of classroom management and discipline in terms of student behavior.

But what about teacher behavior?

If you stand in front of a class and whine and complain about technology, do you think this might effect your ability to manage the class while using technology?

Do you not realize that students can tell whether the use of technology is seamless and natural for you or whether you are struggling. Recently, a student told me of a teacher in class beating on a keyboard to try to get a program to open. Guess what, said teacher: when it comes to technology and your ability to maintain a professional attitude about its use in and among your classes, you've goofed. Your students don't believe a thing you say about tech. They've tuned you out.

They don't trust you.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This whole education thing: it's not about making teachers feel comfortable. It's about educating students. And the students of today are not standing at the same point on the great timeline of history as the students of even ten years ago. Yes they need to learn the great themes of literature, the arts, science, history, and civilization. But, they need to learn those things in a manner that is applicable to the way that the world of today really is, not the way any of us wished it were.

Our current high school seniors are entering into the fiercest college acceptance and job market we have ever known. The U.S. is not even ranked in the top 10 worldwide for math and science. We've spent the last eight years cutting the arts AND technology. And we still in good faith give our students bubble tests and ask them to answer questions from twenty-year-old textbooks. We put ton after ton of taxpayer dollars into new forms of standardized tests and yet we can't commit as a culture to taking an active and immediate role in ending the digital divide.

From an economic perspective, there is no reason every student in this country does not have a laptop and free Internet access.

We complain and we test and test and test. And we pat ourselves on the back that most second graders in certain schools can read at a second grade level. Congratulate?!?

The fact of the matter is, from the viewpoint of many of our students, the role of schools and teachers is to 'educate' them by keeping them in line and on track. Meanwhile, the world has already stepped out of line and it's given up the tracks in favor of flight.

It's a wonder that any of them DO trust us.


  1. I enjoyed this article, as it is very insightful of today's classrooms. Teachers who have already embraced technology and incorporate it into their daily lessons are way ahead of the curve. Students today often know much more than teachers when it comes to anything electronically or technologically based, so it is the responsibility of the teachers and school districts to allow these advancements to enhance the education experience.

  2. The schoo where I teach is beginning a 1:1 next month with the new school year. You hit the nail on the head with my biggest, not the "comic books," the whining teachers! I do not understand why so many of my colleagues refuse to think of their job as facilitating and enriching students. They have some twisted idea that the school exists to somehow serve THEM, the teachers! I am disturbed and concerned and am praying desperately that this project is not a failure because it could be SO GREAT!! I'm really looking forward to integrating connectedness in to my English classroom in everyway I can figure out how to!


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