Principals Pen Wednesday, 22 May 2019

I’m drawn to this quote by Douglas Adams:

‘I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  • Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  • Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  • Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.’

As a woman in her 40s, I’m in conflict. My heart deeply identifies with Adams’ third point, while my brain fights against the illogical and irrational notion of this point. I do acknowledge that, when today’s Living Faith students are aged in their 40s, artificial intelligence will quite likely be to them what the Sony Walkman is to me today – that is, something to look back on fondly.

The media has done a stellar job of providing parents with conflicting arguments about the use of technology in schools. The answer, however, is simple. We must balance the risk posed by technology, with the opportunities and benefits of technology. Dr Katie Martin says the question we need to ask ourselves is: should we restrict access or teach responsibility?

The Living Faith stance is clear... technology does have a place in the contemporary classroom.

Western Sydney University’s Associate Professor Amanda Third speaks about how today’s children were born into and have only ever known what we adults call the ‘digital world’. For today’s children, there is no distinction between the ‘digital world’ and ‘real life’; it’s all just life. Third points out, ‘Children don’t work in online and offline worlds; they’re deeply integrated.’

And so, as adults who make decisions that affect the lives of our children, we can start by understanding the physical and psychological challenges associated with screen activity. Once we understand and are aware of these challenges, we can work to combat them and shift our mindset from one of risk, harm and fear, to one of opportunities, benefits and joys. I won’t unpack such challenges, but you might like to learn about some of them - and these are not exhaustive examples - in the form of stopping cues in Adam Alter’s TED Talk, or the World Health Organisation’s guidelines that were released last month. (There are many articles that summarise the WHO’s findings and resulting guidelines, including this one in The New York Times.)

Living Faith does not have a computer lab or a computer classroom. Living Faith does not subscribe to intensive ‘computer lessons’ for our digital native students, yet our students have one-to-one access to digital devices. Technology in the school setting should not exist as a separate subject or as an entity in itself. Rather, it exists as a tool to reimagine and redefine learning in order to achieve outcomes that were previously inconceivable. Technology does not replace such things as play and physical activity; rather it creates opportunity for experiential learning and presentation. Not dissimilar to a compass, a protractor or an old-school library catalogue, we endeavour to teach the correct and safe way to use a device, empowering students to then use it as a tool to support discovery and learning.

Cybersafety, cyberbullying, screen time, effective use of search engines, sending emails during lesson time: these are not new problems. These are age-old challenges presented in a digital platform. In the traditional sense, we might look at them through the lens of stranger danger, power imbalance, indoors vs outdoors activity, critical literacy and passing notes during lesson time. Technology is the tool through which we see these challenges in today’s world. Do we solve these challenges through compliance by banning, or do we equip our children for their ‘digital world’ by engaging them in understanding their responsibilities towards themselves and others? Living Faith chooses the latter.

In the Living Faith context, students do not typically spend lengthy periods of time glued to a screen. They instead refer to devices briefly as required in order to navigate a task for the purpose of, for example, research. This is not dissimilar to how an adult may pick up and put down a device such as a phone as part of their daily activity. Occasions do exist when students may spend concentrated bursts of time with a device. However, stopping cues exist meaning these concentrated bursts are not prolonged. Living Faith has guidelines in relation to the duration of blue-screen usage by students. Student use of a device does not normally exceed 15% of the school week (which compares to approximately 30% of the school week being taken up with intentional physical movement and long-distant viewing), and devices are used for educational purposes only. After consulting the expertise of occupational therapists, Living Faith also promotes ergonomically-appropriate use of agile furniture when using devices.

Technology is not going away. So much of the way the world gets things done is through digital means. If we aren’t embracing and facilitating digitally-literate classrooms, we are assisting our children in becoming irrelevant in the world they are growing into. If we want to prepare children for the inevitable digital future (which is already here), students must be given space to explore the creativity and imagination that comes with technology and digital media. Our students need to see how technology can help them make a positive and meaningful impact in the world. And they need us, the adults in their lives, to model responsible use of technology, which can be as simple as not using digital devices in the bedroom. In the words of The University of Sydney’s Professor James Curran, ‘We want our students to be masters of digital technologies, not slaves.’

- Jane Mueller, Principal