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Technology in the Classroom with So Many Screens

Jordan Catapano

How many screens are in your classroom?

Many at least have a projector screen or television, so that makes one. Then, I’ve noticed about two-thirds of students typically carry their phones with them at all times: So in a class of 30, that adds 20 more screens. In my classroom, we’ve also got a desktop computer station, which brings us up to 22. And finally, in my school district and in a growing number across America, students have their own tablets for in-class use. So 30 tablets, plus 22 additional screens, equals 52 screens.

Fifty. Two. Screens. That’s a rather large number, don’t you think? Sure, they’re not all being used at once. But even so, it means there’s definitely a much higher likelihood that students and teachers are looking at screens more often than looking at each other when using technology in the classroom. Now don’t get me wrong, screens are certainly a wonderful thing—on them are displayed loads of information and tools for learning—and the possibilities are quite endless.

But they can also come with the tradeoff that we overlook all too often: Devices force us to sacrifice several degrees of authentic human interaction. So how can we build connections with one another, despite a room full of screens delivering technology in the classroom?

Connect Together, Connect Apart

It’s important to know the difference between the opportunities you have for connecting when you’re face to face with someone, and when you’re not. Your class gathers together at the same time, in the same place, each and every day—it would be a shame to then have students isolate themselves by focusing on electronic connections in the classroom. So, make it a point to focus on interactions—like presentations, discussions, and group activities—that cannot be replicated easily via devices.

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Require Interactivity When Using Devices

If you’re implementing an activity that requires the use of screens, it’s a good idea to tailor your instruction to require interaction between classmates. There’s a vast ocean that’s overflowing with ideas on how to accomplish this feat. Your students can work together to create a video or picture story, compose a set of notes or ideas, explore a digital resource, and more. When you couple the use of electronics together with the opportunity to share interpersonal experiences, it makes for a far more impactful activity.

Monitor Yourself

Students frequently imitate a teacher’s behavior, usually without even realizing it. How often do you look at your screens? When students are working on an activity without the direct need for a teacher, are you tempted to check your e-mail, Twitter feed, or the latest TeachHUB publication? If so, then break that habit, before it’s too late! I know, it can be an outrageously difficult coconut to crack. But if you have a choice between interacting with screens, or interacting with the people in the same room as you—choose the people. It’ll prove much more rewarding, and young minds will notice this behavior and follow suit.

Have Clear Rules and Expectations

You should be taking advantage of the educational opportunities electronics provide, but you should also make it clear that there are times when those devices aren’t needed, or even welcome (you know, I sometimes ponder the need for a “Digital Etiquette 101” course thrown into the curriculum, given the way the world is developing). Knowing this, it’s important to set firm guidelines for when students are expected to tear their eyes away from the screen, put the device away, and live in the moment. Carpe … eh, on second thought, maybe I’ll forgo the tired old “Dead Poets Society” references.

Let Students Choose

Believe it or not, students do recognize the difference between interacting with someone in real life versus interacting online. But if they’re steered into one avenue over the other, they might begin to resent that lack of control over how they communicate. To combat this, we can give students options in terms of how they’d like to work with one another. Build it into the course material: It’s a good idea to design lessons, activities, and work that will allow students the choice to use a digital tool or not. This will help them weigh their options, and understand the value of both.

Screens are windows into an entire virtual world of tools, resources, and connections—they’re fantastic things. But sometimes, they’re simply nothing more than an obstacle, building barriers between two people sitting right next to each other. While it’s certainly important to impress upon students the wealth of opportunities these screens can provide, it’s equally as essential to remind them of more personalized, human, and impactful connections that can be made with one another.

How do you help students build connection and community with one another, despite the presence of potentially distracting technology? Tell us your experiences and leave a comment!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com