Mentoring vs Monitoring for Digital Natives

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Published on: January 13, 2015

Dr Devorah Heitner’s TEDxNaperville talk, Raising Digital Natives, is a must-see for teachers grappling with technology in their districts.

Schools in general spend way too much time enforcing technology behavior rather than teaching it. They ban devices. They install cumbersome locks on apps and traffic. They install technology to snoop on students. It goes on and on, and it does nothing to solve the core problem: we have to teach humanity with technology.

As Dr Heitner puts it, we need to spend more time mentoring students in social interaction via social media and technology. We need to model the behavior of managing text messages, and teach students how to manage the pressure of being always available.

Too few teachers understand their students’ relationships with technology. If a teacher thinks cell phones are distracting and useless, they often feel the student should feel the same way. If a tech coordinator thinks Snapchat and Facebook are wastes of time, chances are he’ll just lock them down with content filters. If administrators think students are only using text messages and camera phones for nefarious purposes, then all they’re going to see are students engaging in negative behavior. I even know of schools inquiring about technologies to prevent cellular signals from getting into or out of buildings!

It’s a losing proposition. At best it’s an arms race as we try to outpace student usage, and at worst it fosters an environment of distrust because students know we’re watching—and passing judgement on—their every move. Again, it does nothing to solve the behaviors at the core of the problem.

In addition, Dr Heitner points out a potentially larger problem: limiting access and monitoring usage prevents students from developing and learning to manage their own identities.

We’re in the business of growing students, not manufacturing robots. Yes, some of our students will make mistakes, but that’s okay. Our job is not to prevent mistakes, our job is to teach students how to manage and survive those mistakes.

Please do spare some time for the video. It’s worth it.

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