A couple of weeks ago I chaperoned a group of students to a choir festival in Vietnam. Between vocal warm ups and ensemble auditions, kids chatted in groups and scrolled through their Snapchat feed but quite a few of them, more than you would think, were working on school assignments and completing the tasks that they would miss while they were away. One of the students on the trip was frantically trying to finish up his extended essay (a senior year IB writing project). I say frantically because it was due the previous week, a fact that was not lost on him given the rate at which he was flipping between websites and footnotes. I was pretty surprised because of how academically minded this student usually is. He holds leadership positions at school, is active in music, sports, and MUN and is an all around responsible and well organized kid…except when it comes to his EE, apparently. I asked him why he was still working on his paper and he said that he knew he would have lots of work built up after the trip and there were quite a few assignments due on the same day, but the IB doesn’t penalize students for late work, so this was an obvious choice for what could be left until later. Whether or not the IB doesn’t penalize late work (there is a due date for the EE but points are not deducted by most supervisors for turning the paper in late) is sort of up for debate, but I could tell that this student had done the mental arithmetic, weighed the pros and cons, and made a choice based on the information at hand. The EE wouldn’t suffer any for being a couple of days late and could therefore wait a little while to be completed.
This is not the first time that I have had a conversation like this with students about late work. Otherwise organized and intelligent high schoolers will look at all of the assignments that they have due, run a quick triage in their minds, and go from there. The student on the trip was no different and because he’s a smart and thoughtful kid I took the opportunity to ask him a question that I’ve been asking lots of kids who turn in late work: Do you think that flexible due dates in high school will affect your ability to submit your work on time in the future? What about college where most instructors will deduct a percentage of your final grade for work submitted late? Were we fully preparing them for college expectations? The student was surprised that many college instructors had such strict late work policies but after a moment he said that he thought that students could probably change their work habits to meet the demands and that they wouldn’t carry the expectations that they had in high school over to college.
I’ve had similar conversations with students over the time that I’ve been an IB librarian and I’ve been lucky enough to follow up with some of my students after they’ve been at university for a while. In general, my student’s prediction holds true: in general, students adjust to meet the expectations that they are given. Within reason, if you set the bar at a certain height, students will do what they can to meet it. They, like most humans, are adaptable and will meet the expectations that are given to them.
One of the things that I often hear about the future of technology and education is that it is “too late” to change the way that young people interact with screens and each other online. “The screens are here!” they seem to say, “and they have taken over and it is terrible and it is ruining children’s brains and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we can do about it!” These folks paint a pretty bleak picture where humans have somehow ceded power to their smartphones and laptops and no amount of effort on our part today will save us from a future where social interaction squelching chips are implanted in our brains tomorrow. These are the folks that believe that market interests drive education and that if Apple and Android want us to hand teaching over to their software engineers, we will have no choice but to do so. While I do harbor a healthy amount of corporate distrust, I just can’t imagine a future that has so thoroughly removed better judgement, best practice, and authentic learning from the picture.
One of our suggested readings this week really resonated with me: EdTech Is Driving Me Crazy, Too by Will Richardson. The most telling thing about the whole tone of the article is right in the title- is driving me crazy, TOO. TOO! It’s like he’s saying, “trust me, I know, we are all a little fed up right now”. I couldn’t agree more with Richardson when he says that, “I’m still in the camp that says humans and technologies can work together in powerful ways in classroom learning contexts.” We (and by we I mean humans) are doing this whole technology thing for the very first time. We can’t ask our parents or professors what it was like to parent or teach with smartphones because they don’t know. We are all going this alone! So it might take some trial and error before we are able to figure out what best practice and the most effective pedagogy looks like when you’ve got screens in the mix.
Unlike Ange, I do NOT want to be a futurist, and trust me, you don’t want me to be a futurist either! I have a terrible tendency to completely mis-predict what will happen in the future or what might be trending or out of touch. In 2008 I thought that Apple computers were ugly and unlovable and that Drake was trying unsuccessfully to turn his meagre success on Degrassi into a music career. LOOK AT THEM NOW! I am terrible at predicting the future.
What I CAN do with some degree of confidence is look into the recent past and tell you what has worked and how we can use it. I have seen amazing things happen when teachers really buy into SAMR/TPAC/RAT and use it to carefully weed out the tech tools that are no longer serving their classrooms or students. I know that approaching new-to-tech teachers with kindness will get you a lot further than approaching them with judgement and pity. I’ve seen how quickly students can get absorbed in a project when there is a social aspect built into it, either online or in person. All of this has brought me to the conclusion that the future role of technology is to bring us back to each other. At its worst, tech can be isolating, depressing, and mind numbingly “entertaining”. But at its best it can be connective and inspiring, a tool that amplifies and transforms the already amazing things that we are doing in our classrooms. Just like my choir student, we can adapt to our environment and the expectations that we set for ourselves and our students, and if we are keeping our relationships and connections in mind while we plan for the future, it’s going to be bright.