On Student Enagement

Categories: Philosophy
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Published on: November 29, 2012

There is no clearer indication of a lack of student engagement than vandalism.

Student graffiti.
One of six instances of graffiti on this keyboard alone.

Vandalism is a crime of opportunity. When students are given nothing to do, they will find ways to entertain themselves, and sometimes their solutions will be counter-productive or harmful.

In labs, the general trend is for teachers to allow a student on a computer only if they’re working. I’ve seen students have to sit and read quietly, where this computer is just inches away. What messages does that send to the student?

How about, “Yes, the Internet is a portal to a wide array of information, but you’re not allowed to use it.”

Or, “We don’t trust you to make a smart decision about the use of your free time.”

Or even, “I hate and fear this Internet thing, and you don’t belong on it.”

We can’t tell our communities how important technology is and why we need bigger budgets for better equipment, only to turn around and tell the students it’s not for them.

Students need downtime. Heck, we all need a break from time to time. Teachers see no problem with taking a few minutes of class time to check personal email or read a news site, so why should we expect any different from our students? Hammering at them to go go go for four periods in a stretch can be overwhelming for some students.

On a broader scope, companies like Google—and now Apple—are allowing their staff to use work time to work on personal projects. Why shouldn’t our students have the same opportunity?

Yes, some students will always make questionable decisions. But some will use it to work on other class work. Some will use it to learn something new. Some will use it to communicate with friends in another town, or even on the other side of the planet. Some will use it to pursue creative interests like art or photography.

We should let them! Even better, we should encourage them to do so.

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