Technology is a dominating force in education, but twenty-five years ago, most classrooms didn’t even have a single computer, let alone a roomful. With today’s students the most plugged-in generation to ever walk the earth, the value of technology is often taken for granted. More than that, overexposure to technology can actually change how the brain processes information, and today’s students, who eagerly turn to iPhones, Facebook, and Wikipedia to slake their thirst for entertainment and information, run the risk of being so accustomed to technology that they are unable to imagine a world without it. Although the value of technology to education is unquestionable, it can also close students’ connections to the past and lessen their ability to relate to others in the three-dimensional world. With this in mind, teachers may consider turning to a technology-free day as a way to illustrate to students that unplugging from the digital plane can be just as liberating as plugging in to it.
Technology-Free Day: the Basic Principle
Creating a technology-free day is more than just telling students to turn off their cell phones and put away their iPods. It involves the complete elimination of all digital technology from the classroom. While this may be impossible for to implement if you teach through an online school, if you work at brick-and-mortar campus you can create such a program by having students turn off and stow away their cell phones and other digital devices, and also reinforcing this dictum by sending a letter home. Inform parents of your plans for a no-technology day and ask them to assist you by having their children leave digital devices at home or, for older students, in their cars. Let parents know that if students don’t follow this basic rule and are caught with technology while in your classroom you will confiscate it for the rest of the day. It might sound harsh, but even temporarily breaking the digital hold will require firm measures. Of course, it’ll be best if you can persuade your students to try this exercise willingly.
In the classroom, cover up computers or store them away. Make sure they are turned off. This will also include your own computer, so try to do any work you need to do on your computer the night before or before school starts. If attendance is taken on the computer, ask an administrator if you can submit a handwritten list of students present (or absent) for entry, or submit the electronic roster later after school.
Similarly, rely on the blackboard (or whiteboard) to communicate your ideas. You can’t show video clips or use other visual entertainment aids. Instead, help students to engage in the lesson and create their own entertainment moments without the aid of technology. Have them perform skits, present artwork, or deliver speeches.
You may also want to use simple exercises that show students not only how liberating it can be to live without technologically-enhanced burdens, but also how much easier our lives are in certain ways because of those enhancements. Ask students how they would go about contacting a friend at a different school without their cell phones or to locate a book in the library without the electronic catalog. Ask them to research an obscure topic using books instead of search engines or write an essay without automatic spell-checking. At the end of the day, ask them to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of living in a world free of digital technology.
One example of a no-technology day, which was held at Harkins Middle School, required the students to eschew the SMARTboard technology that they use on daily basis along with other digital instruments from computers to photocopiers. Students had to write out their own matching games, copy notes by hand, and didn’t have use of Senteo Responders, which digitally link their answers to questions to the teacher’s computer to give real-time feedback.
Why Do It?
The responses as to why teachers and students should make the effort to go technology-free for a day vary greatly, but the results speak for themselves. Among the students who participated in the Harkins Middle School no-technology day, responses ranged from those who suddenly understood what it would be like to go to a school that did not have access to any type of technology to those and felt sorry for those without access to these learning tools to those who discovered that they actually preferred the day without technology. In any case, the responses from students demonstrated that each developed a new view of technology’s role in their lives, a view which will lead to an expanded appreciation of both technology’s benefits and downsides.
Older students have also taken it upon themselves to live without digital media for a day. For instance, the students at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism performed a study in conjunction with the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and discovered that, for today’s college students, living without digital technology is practically impossible simple because college campuses are so “plugged in” to the digital sphere. However, they found that students characterize themselves as addicted to digital media and feel that without their access to these communication forums they are cut off from friends and family. Likewise, the study showed students relied far more on Facebook and texting to communicate than they did on e-mail and phone calls, and that it was far easier for them to live without TV than it was for them to live without iPods. The study also found that students don’t distinguish new sources or have loyalty to any specific program, making them susceptible to disinformation.
What the University of Maryland study highlights is how crucial it is for students to develop an understanding of how technology impacts their world. Eliminating digital technologies for a day is a first step to emphasizing to students the pros and cons that this technology has on their everyday lives. Although developing a single classroom day during which technology is not used might seem like using a bucket to empty the ocean, the impact that this single day will have on students stands to impart far-reaching insight. It will alter their perspective on the role technology plays in their lives and, for some, convince them that it’s alright to rely less on technology and more on face-to-face communication. Even picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of texting can be a step to reestablishing the interpersonal ties that the advent of digital communication technology has hampered.