Bookclub Chapter 8: School Life in the Digital Age

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In Chapter 8: School Life in the Digital Age, Heitner highlights some benefits and challenges of devices for students, particularly in schools that have instituted 1:1 programs (meaning each student has a dedicated device for classroom use). Knowing that our own school district (ACSD) is moving to 1:1 this year, I was particularly interested in this aspect and will be curious to see how the strategy plays out in our community.

With regard to homework, students can benefit from increased access after hours to teachers and peers, and Heitner reminds us that kids may need help understanding certain boundaries such as:

  1. when to reach out to peers vs. the teacher with questions (tip: try other options before contacting the teacher!);
  2. when tech tools are serving to enhance learning and productivity and when they’re leading to cheating/intellectual dishonesty; and
  3. which tasks are better suited to paper and pencil/unplugged time (such as editing drafts) and which are well-served by using a device?

Heitner reminds us that schools are tending to grow more communicative about grades and progress, and sharing more frequent updates about school happenings, but that the increased connection can sometimes lead to parents being overly focused on small matters vs. larger progress, and to being overloaded by the sheer volume of information. In the same regard, having more access to our kids during the day to “check in” isn’t necessarily a boon as they’re developing independence from us. 

Distraction is one of the biggest challenges of devices. While crafting this post, I heard my email ding four times—which I resisted reading, except the notification popup—and received one unimportant text which I looked at but managed not to answer. Each time my brain lost its place, and it took me a moment to get back on course. Multi-tasking comes at a cost, Heitner reminds us, and bopping back and forth between tasks can result in a project taking longer (and possibly being less cohesive) than if we’d avoided distraction. She suggests using a “one device at a time” guideline to avoid what she calls “double screening.” She also says we can tap into tech tools to help with that, like using apps to block social media during certain time periods, restricting apps to certain devices, or even turning wi-fi off for a time period. She also cautions us to clue into our kids’ homework time and if it seems an assignment is taking longer than it should, we might want to check in. She urges us to mentor kids on how to streamline the homework process, so devices improve rather than inhibit productivity.

Heitner urges parents to be curious and proactive about how tech use is handled in our schools. As ACSD moves into the 1:1 realm, and navigates this transition without the benefit of the recently departed (and valued by PSTT) Innovation Specialist Tim O’Leary, I think it will be more important than ever to ask a) what are the policies and practifor tech use during the day at each school and b) how well are these policies being followed? Most importantly, we need to be asking, as the author suggests, “How does 1:1 affect the recommendations we always hear about limiting screen time?” A priority of this group is to think about our kids’ 24-hour digital diet and be intentional about how and when kids use screens at school and home. It’s great to hear Heitner thinks we’re on the right track!

Post by Amy Mason

A little followup note: I can’t resist taking a moment to express my frustration about the final paragraphs in this chapter. Heitner calls the segment “But What Am I Supposed to Do?” and then she dishes up what she calls “Some big picture tips for navigating parenting a connected student.” And with this setup, where do we go? Well, Heitner lists a single tip (pointing us to a different book, which sounds great, but still!) embedded within 8 other bullet points that are questions without answers. Ms. Heitner, I love your book. But if you’re gonna caption a section like this, and promise some big picture tips? Please give us some answers rather than more questions! Were any other readers struck by this? We’d love to hear your thoughts!


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