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Benefit of the doubt

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

When I walked out of a hotel in Atlanta last week, I saw this SUV parked in a compact car parking spot:

The note taped to the hood read:

We've all had thoughts similar (well, I have anyway). Where does this dork get off parking in a spot reserved for a smaller car? That person walking into the mall - why does he/she merit a handicapped license plate? Is that person in the grocery store just ahead of me really buying a steak with food stamps? Why does the kid wearing $100 sneakers qualify for a reduced price school lunch? Isn't that paper too good not to be plagiarized?

As I thought about the note on the car above, I could easily imagine a dozen reasons a person might squeeze a big vehicle into a small spot in order to be close to the door. Sick kid? Bad foot? Late for important meeting? Big load to carry into the hotel? Great-grandma came along? Only spot in the ramp left? Permission from management?

Or it could just be cussed laziness. Point is, why should we assume bad intentions? Why not assume good reasons?

Seems we do this as a species a lot, especially with students. Presume guilt instead of innocence. Forget Hanlon's Razor (Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.) when somebody screws up.

Lighten up. Presume innocence, stupidity, and often a rational explanation. You'll be happier with the human race - and yourself.


BFTP: Distracting technologies

Once you are at cruise, there's nothing to do. ... You're not allowed to read; you're not allowed to, as we've learned, use laptops. You're not allowed to listen to music. ... you're supposed to sit in the seat, stay awake, and pay attention." Northwest Airlines pilot Jack Neis quoted in Nov 1, 2009 Minneapolis Star Tribune article (Could also be said by most students taking a F2F classes.)

Whenever the topic of students using technology in school comes up, observations of how distracting technology can be almost always follow.

In response to a recent post, a number of readers suggested that the problem with access to YouTube by students is not inappropriate content, but that the resource is a distraction - like Facebook, game sites, and a host of other sites kids find a good deal more interesting than, say, the Crimean War or square roots or past participles.

The ability to distract has also put the use of laptops, netbooks, cell phones, PDAs, and iPod/mp3 players on the banned list in many schools. "Those dang kids are just listening to the filthy lyrics of rap music on their iPods instead of my lecture," pretty much summarizes the argument.

And you know what? I agree that technology can be a distraction - from my own experiences both as an instructor and as a student, as a meeting chair and as a meeting attendee.

I find it discouraging, to say the least, when a participant in one of my "enthralling" workshops starts texting or banging out something on the keyboard instead of hanging on each brilliant nugget of wisdom emanating from the front of the room. But then, I've found reading my RSS feeds more interesting than more than one keynote or meeting myself. (And I've felt like a dope when asked a question and it's obvious that I'd not been listening to the conversation.)

What, if anything, can be done about the distracting quality of technology?

The quick answer usually put forward by those not actually in the classroom or leading meetings is to simply offer a more engaging F2F experience. More discussion. More hands-on activities. Better slide shows. More relevant content. And I agree with this approach. Most of us can, indeed, create a more interactive learning experience. But this is something that is far easier espoused, than done.

Education, as we know it, still involves delivering content to some degree. Curricula still include topics that need to be mastered that rank pretty low on the relevance scale (and is all content relevant to all learners?) And quite frankly, lots of teachers have never experienced a high engagement classroom or workshop nor been taught how to conduct one.

Another easy answer is to simply "let the chips fall where they may." If kids (or meeting attendees) tune out to focus in on their Facebook page, well, let the natural consequences of such actions happen. And what might this tell us when students who listen with only one ear do better than those who give us our full attention. (Ever have kids who are absent from class a lot do better on tests than those who attended every class? I have.)

I don't have a good answer here. But I do know that trying to keep technologies out of the classroom and library is an unwinnable strategy. These devices are getting smaller, cheaper, more powerful and more an extension of our students' brains everyday. There is a steady movement to unblock the YouTubes and Facebooks and game sites in our libraries and labs. And it would be cruel and unusual punishment to sent many adults to meetings without their iPhones or Blackberries.

How do we deal with the distractive qualities of technology in schools?

Original post November 1, 2009. These ideas were further developed in the article Taming the Chaos , Leading & Learning with Technology, Nov 2010.


Digital citizenship or digital responsibility?

In "Why I Hate Digital Citizenship" Edutopia, 10/26/14, Ozzie HS teacher Keith Heggart writes:

... I can't bear the term digital citizenship. I don't think that's what we're teaching in the vast majority of these blog posts. Instead, I think we're teaching digital responsibility. We're teaching kids how to stay safe and be sensible - and that's not citizenship. ...

It's kind of like teaching children to cross the road safely, and then claiming that's teaching citizenship. Citizenship is how to participate - safely, yes, but also meaningfully and thoughtfully - in civil society, in political, social and other spheres. There's a lot more to it than responsibilities.

Point taken, Keith. But I will argue that "citizenship" is still a relevant term and that teaching Internet safety does not go far enough - we should be teaching a broader category - ethical behaviors.

In Developing an Ethical Compass for Worlds of Learning (Identtified by MERLOT as a distinguished, high-quality source of learning material), MultiMedia Schools, Nov/Dec 1998, I wrote:

In direct or indirect ways, children begin to learn ethical values from birth. And while families and the church are assigned the primary responsibility for a child’s ethical education, schools have traditionally had the societal charge to teach and reinforce some moral values, especially those directly related to citizenship and school behaviors. Most of the ethical issues that surround technology deal with societal and school behaviors and are an appropriate and necessary part of the school curriculum.

Perhaps there was an earlier mention of technology ethics being considered as a part of "citizenship," but I'd like somebody to show me where. While I may not have popularized the term, I may have accidently invented it. Given the squeamishness that school leaders often have teaching "values," I'd argue that citizenship gets as close to the kind of behavior we want to address as possible.

In the article cited above (and expanded in my book Learning Right From Wrong in the Digital Age) I organized safe and ethical behavior as:

Johnson’s 3 P’s of Technology Ethics:

 Privacy - I will protect my privacy and respect the privacy of others.

 Property - I will protect my property and respect the property of others.

a(P)propriate Use - I will use technology in constructive ways and in ways which do not break the rules of my family, church, school, or government.

Note that how one treats others is ethics; how one deals with the unethical actions of others is safety. Two sides to the same coin - and both need to be addressed - seriously.

Call it citizenship, safety, ethics, values, or your own term, but help kids learn it, everytime they go online.