I can’t imagine the challenges teachers face in educating students, given the ubiquity of cell phones these days. It is hard enough trying to have an adult-to-adult conversation without someone responding to a text, reading a Tweet or posting their latest thoughts to Facebook. But to be responsible for catching and keeping the attention of those under 18 in order to teach them and prepare them for their future, with the constant lure of technology surrounding us, is a Herculean task.
The reach of technology has expanded to the point where essentially everyone is carrying it around in their pocket. As of January 2017, 95% of Americans 18 years and older own a cell phone and 77% of those are smartphones. But it’s not just adults tethered to these devices. In 2015, almost three-quarters of teens aged 13 to 17 reported having or having access to a smartphone and another 30% to a basic phone. Only 12% of teens said they don’t have any kind of cellphone. And it doesn’t stop there. In 2016, the average age for a child to get their first phone was reported to be 10.3 years old. These are kids in elementary school or starting middle school, who are beginning to become self-aware and can be more difficult to deal with.
It is obvious parents have become quite comfortable supplying their children with the latest in hand-held technology. But how are schools and teachers managing this rising tide of device-equipped students? For the most part, they have been tackling this challenge on a school-by-school basis, as they see best, across North America. The result is a range of approaches from no limits whatsoever to no use of cell phones during class, and now an all-out ban.
Last month, a Canadian middle school for grades 7 and 8 (in Victoria, BC) announced a complete ban on cellphones and Internet-connected iPods, starting with the new school year in September. Currently their students can bring cell phones to school but they are not allowed to take them to class. However, that policy has not been working as well as hoped. The school is finding that students are not able to manage the distractions of their phones, resulting in some conflicts with each other and with teachers. Hence the decision to proceed with a complete ban. There will be a few exceptions allowed but those students will need to hand in their cellphones at the start of the day and will only get them back when the school day is done.
Parents’ reactions to this new policy are mixed. Some argue that technology should be used as a learning tool. But this particular school already has many computers and tablets that they use to facilitate education when appropriate. The school sees the ban as the only way to reduce unnecessary distractions and improve the learning environment. And there many other parents who agree with that thinking. Right or wrong, the ban will definitely impact parents, teachers and kids alike when the next school year begins.
Last Friday morning, my day started with a walk downtown to attend Creative Mornings which is a wonderful, local monthly event. Terry McBride was the featured speaker and the theme for May was serendipity.
For a man so accomplished, Terry was refreshingly down to earth and approachable. He talked about listening to his intuition, staying true to his intention and taking advantage of the chance opportunities that have crossed his path. He told some great stories to illustrate how all this has come together for him numerous times, professionally and personally. Then, after Terry spoke, we had our group discussion. One of the things I love about Creative Mornings is that you break into small groups once the speaker is done, so you can compare your thoughts and reactions to what they said. After about 15 minutes of discussion, everyone turns their attention back to the speaker for a Q&A.
Our group of 8 or 9 had a good conversation about being open to opportunities, trusting your gut, etc. Everyone seemed keen to take advantage of serendipity in their own lives but I couldn’t help wondering if they were really giving it a chance. At the beginning of the event, when everyone gathered in the lobby to wait for the doors to open, I had noticed that most people were on their phones. Many had come alone but even people who had come with others were on their phones. All this isolation and distraction strikes me as a dubious way to foster the serendipity that everyone professed to want.
The funny thing is, I think that people who come to this event are generally open to engaging with others and connecting on common themes of interest. In fact, the goal of Creative Mornings, in addition to celebrating the city’s creative talent, is to ‘promote an open space to connect with like-minded people.’ But it is difficult to connect when people are face-down in their screens. And if we can’t connect, how can we expect serendipity to happen?
Now I’m not saying that opportunities can’t come to us online but an event like this is such a wonderful way to connect offline - in person. To me it seems the perfect time to put away devices and be present because you never know who you’ll meet and what might come from that. Having come to the event with that very intention, I had fought my urges and stayed off my phone, with one quick exception to jot down two events I want to look into. As a result, I ran into a former colleague and had an interesting discussion with him about what we’re both up to. It was great to re-connect and who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to help each other in some way because of that chat. I am happy to say that I think we gave serendipity a chance.
I have a curious mind and many interests. I like to spend time musing about things marketing-related, as well as how technology impacts our world.