Classroom Management: How Do I Manage Technology Use?

            I have a love and hate relationship with technology.  Hate is probably too strong a word, but there are days that technology does not make my job easier.  I am not talking about the multiple uses for it in the classroom, I am talking about managing technology in general.

            Everyone of our students interacts with some sort of technology on a regular basis.  We may like to kid ourselves about the use of technology, but the reality is, our students are growing up in a digital age.  They have more computing power in one cell phone than the first moon launch did. ZME Science states that the Iphone 6’s clock is 32,600 times faster than the fastest computer used in the Apollo era computers and could perform instruction 120,000,000 times faster.  Used correctly, this is a powerful tool in the hands of our students.  Used incorrectly, we look at pictures of chemistry cats and play video games.

            My issues with technology have less to do with the use of it and more to do with the management.  With a background in physical and health education, I am not a fan of technology in the classroom.  However, I have used it effectively in many ways.  And yes, even I have had students pull a cell phone out in the middle of an active game or activity to check messages, which has given me pause.

            Advancements in technology have made our lives significantly easier.  I do like the appropriate use of technology.  Classroom management software, educational software, curriculum software, and the vast array of good programs out there allow me to more effectively present information.  If used properly it can be an amazing educational tool in your classroom.

            If we speak from a classroom management issue, it can become an absolute nightmare for a teacher.  Students, and adults, are addicted to technology.  We get that a hit of dopamine as we expect the reward of a social media message, text, or other “ping” from our device and we feel good about it.  We become dopamine addicted to social media and it eats up our time as is presented by Trevor Haynes a research technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard University in a recent study.  We are in a struggle for time over technology in our classrooms.

            Our students are masters of using technology.  They know how to do the finger swipe from screen to screen to hide what they were seeing.  They have multiple screens open at any one time.  These are the students who think they can multi-task but really are distracted by social media, games, music, video or any other form of programming they can access.  It is inhibiting their relationships and there is even good research being presented that suggests that the cell phone that is turned off and stowed is impacting the students learning.  As suggested in a recent article on Edutopia.org, students who split their time between learning tasks and cell phone or Facebook performed poorly when compared to students who did not split their time.  With this information in mind, what can I do as a teacher to manage the technology use in the classroom?

            This is an easy answer if you have a clear technology policy in place for the school.  The school should have an agreed upon acceptable use policy for electronic devices in the school and classroom setting.  With an acceptable use policy, the students, teachers, and administrators can identify key behaviors, times, and places that are acceptable within the school.  In an era of cyber-bullying, online harassment, sharing of test information, and many other nefarious uses, this is not just prudent behavior for a school, it is necessary and even required.  There are many good examples of Acceptable Use Policies by schools, the following are some good examples as points of reference:

These are just some examples, found through searches on the internet, of good quality acceptable technology usage.  Are they perfect for every school?  Of course not.  You must address the individual issues within the school setting.  With a clear policy in place, the school and the teacher have a strong foundation for addressing appropriate internet and technology usage.

As the administrator, you must ensure that the teachers, students, and the parents are aware of the policy and the enforcement of the policy within the school setting.  You must ensure that teachers support his policy and fairly enforce it within the context of their setting.   I say fairly rather than equally because the ultimate usage of technology is up to the teacher.  Each teacher must make the decision of how they will manage technology in the classroom within the guidelines of the school.

As the classroom teacher, you must ultimately make the decision about how you will best utilize technology within the classroom in relation to student learning.  This includes cell phone use, laptop or computer use, and any other technology that is available.  You must also decide what is personally acceptable to you as an educator in an era where you may find yourself being videotaped, voice recorded, or pictures being taken of you without your permission.  Some of these are a decision that the school policy may resolve while others are decisions you must make yourself.

Focusing on acceptable use at the beginning of the year is the best time to resolve issues.  This is where involvement and buy in with the students is critical.  There are many methods a teacher could use to address the management of technology in the classroom.  However, the most critical is the decision of the comfort level of the teacher with technology use in the class setting.  Some questions that you might ask yourself before speaking with students are:

  • Will the students use technology in the classroom?  How?
  • Will the students use their own device or a school owned device?
  • Does the school require monitoring software on all computers?  What happens if a student does not have that software on the computer?
  • What is your comfort level with students using technology independently in the classroom?
  • Are students allowed to use social media in your classroom during instruction?
  • What is the consequence if a student uses technology inappropriately in the classroom?
  • How will a student know when it is acceptable to use technology for non-academic purposes and when it is not?

As the educator, you need to set clear expectations for the use of technology in the classroom.  However, we must also recognize that students will find ways to work around the rules and expectations we set.  This is especially true if we do not include them in the discussion and only dictate the rules to them.  Worse, if you outline one set of rules, and the teacher next door does something completely different, the students will be upset and work to disrupt the teacher who has set stricter expectations.  However, if you involve the students in this discussion on what is acceptable use, they will support the class expectations that are set, especially if they believe that they are responsible for its development and the usage is fair to the class setting.

Students want to know why they must follow a direction or rule.  Students are just like adults in that regard and knowing “why” is a fair request.  Providing the explanation as more than “because the school policy says so” or worse “because I say so” is critical.  So is allowing flexibility under the guidelines.  Consider how we use technology in the school as an adult.  We use it to communicate, check social media, email, set appointments, and many other uses.  If we tell students to not do these things, then do them ourselves, we create a natural conflict.  However, if we allow for appropriate use of technology in the classroom, we must teach the students what that looks like.

In addition to creating your own class expectation of technology and agreeing to it, one must also teach appropriate use.  Ideally, this is a school-wide instruction on how to use technology appropriately.  In this manner, consistent uses of technology can be shared school-wide.  However, absent this expectation, the teacher must provide this instruction.  Regardless, the teacher must provide at least minimal instruction on what the expectations are, and look like, within the classroom.  Model appropriate use.  Discuss it in class.  Allow them time to use technology appropriately.  Reinforce appropriate behavior.  And most importantly, respectfully address breaches of the class technology expectations.

This is not to say that we allow students free reign within our classroom to use technology as they see fit.  We must identify that this would be a problem.  Instead, it is to provide instruction and guidelines on technology use, especially as we technology in class or in professional settings.  The complex issues of cyber-bullying, online harassment, and abuse need direct instruction and clear guidelines.  However, copying information from sites or even plagiarism or using copyrighted material are not clear.  We must instruct on these topics, so our students understand rather than assuming what they know and finding ourselves addressing issues of academic honesty.

 From a purely management standpoint, it is recommended that the teacher uses some form of a sign, non-verbal image or signal to alert students when they might use technology freely.  Identify when students must use strict classroom expectations, and when they may have flexibility in its use.  Realize one very important point though, unless you have the ability to fully control the electronics devices in the classroom, you do not have full control of the management of the devices.  It is a hard reality, but a reality none the less.

Some teachers choose to require students to check in cell phones early in class and get them at the end.  Some teachers have a holding area for technology where items are stored.  Some teachers choose to allow students to use devices freely in class with minimal expectations.  There is nothing wrong with any of these options.  It depends on you, the educator or administrator, to determine acceptable levels of use.

As my background is in health and physical education, I can not highly stress the importance of breaks from technology.  Provide students with options to technology use or simply times for the students to have breaks.  Students do need to disengage from technology and have discussions that do not require electronic devices.  This is where a teacher can bring in Socratic Seminars or other discussion strategies to engage students without devices.

Finally, on can not address the issue of a technology use policy without addressing the consequences for violation of said policy within the school and classroom.  These must be reasonable, enforceable, and appropriate for the environment.  The students will need technology for use in their classrooms or simply for communication during the day.  To simply take the electronic devices as a consequence, while effective, results in the teacher or administration being responsible for damage to the device.  In addition, the student may have a legitimate need to use the device during the day and loss of it would create a hardship for the student and teachers.  That being said, there should be a consequence for the student who continues to violate the technology use policy.  That may mean checking the device into the office in the morning, or not bringing a laptop to school.  The more creative a school can get with this, and the more the student is responsible for the consequence and re-education of the use of the device, the more effective the consequence will be.  However, for this to be effective, consequences must be consistent and enforce the policy.  The greatest challenge the administrator will face is inconsistency within the school in this regard.

I would strongly urge anyone looking at technology use policies to do their research and step into this process with a reason for why you are doing it.  Do not simply exclude technology from your program.  Nor should you allow free reign of the use of technology with no restrictions.  Find the place where you are most comfortable and start there.  Review your plans, whether they are policies or classroom management within six months of implementation and ask “how is it working?”  Make adjustments as necessary as issues arise until the school is comfortable with the policy and management style.

All schools must face the issue of technology head on as it is not going away.  Determine what is your belief about the use of technology and form your documents and plans around that belief.  It can be a difficult process but ultimately sets your school up for success moving into the future.

Feel free to contact us here at International School Leadership and Teamwork about the management of technology in the classroom or other classroom management policies.

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