Sunday, September 8, 2013

OMG We Learned A Lot (About Distractions That Is)!

In 2010, Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas, SJ spoke to a gathering of higher education types in an address called “Depth, Universality and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today.”  In the address, he focused on 3 advantages modern technology allows for (I am paraphrasing here): 
  • Appreciation for the depth of thought and imagination shared via technologies 
  • New possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue 
  • Creation of a “learned ministry” - going beyond our walls to recognize inequalities and become voices for the voiceless

All these things are still true 3 years later.  We are sharing ours thoughts and imagination, opening new possibilities for dialogue and supporting students who understand the lived ministry of becoming voices for the voiceless...But even in all this wonder - we educators are still charged with developing young, impressionable minds - with developing frontal lobes. Minds that are trying to figure out that while this world is full of possibilities … it is also full of distractions.  So how do we do this?

Fr. Jason Roll (National Director of Youth and Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) recently blogged on this issue in light of parenting the next digital generation.  One can easily interpret the same ideas into education. Our roles include:
  • Responsibility to keep up with how children use technology and what to look for as signs of problems (hint - same signs as depression, suicide, drug addiction: marked changes in behavior, weight loss or gain, lack or change in social group, dropping grades
  • Obligation to teach our children responsible behavior and use of technology
  • Taking charge of technology rather than letting it take charge of us 
  • Our commitment to engage all the children in our lives with and without electronic tools

In light of all this... the Brebeuf faculty spent an hour this week in a delayed-opening PD workshop on our roles in guiding young people in a digitally distracted world. It's a lot of stuff to think about!!  And of course we ran out of time... but here's what we did...

Over the Labor Day weekend, faculty were invited to journal their personal digital distractions. I made up the handout below - but many used their own note system

Our Multi-Purpose Room was arranged for table conversations (8-9 people each). Groups were assigned (yes, broke up the nature groups). We started with a reflection via the video "I Forgot My Phone" and the distraction journals. Groups shared observations and experiences for 10 or so minutes (my watch battery died about this point so I am not exactly sure... and my phone was put away thank you very much).

Two students shared their reflections on BYOT at Brebeuf and their personal challenges with distraction. Both admitted to falling under the spell of distractions but both also confirmed that by being aware - being allowed to make mistakes and be called out for them - creates a better sense of personal responsibility. This will serve them well as they leave our halls and head into the world.

Two teachers also shared reflections on BYOT at Brebeuf and how distractions manifest in classroom, coaching and personal relationships.

At this point the clock was running down... but we managed 5-10 minutes where the tables discussed techniques for dealing with distractions. Each table jotted down some suggestions. The most frequently recorded were:

1. Walk around the classroom
2. Be clear in expectations for work submitted, classroom activities and behaviors
3. Let mistakes happen - we learn from failure
4. MODEL desired behaviors - whether it be single-tasking, leaving phone in handbag or just turning off the Outlook notifications on your laptop... model, model, model. The students are watching everything!
4. It's not a bad idea to ask for phones to be left on the desk during bathroom breaks (that's just basic hygiene there people!)

There is no silver bullet to solving the distracted behaviors. Just as we admit every child has their unique gifts, every child has their unique challenges. But if we take up the mantel of modeling responsible behavior, recognizing the signs of dangerous addiction and engaging young people in digital and non-digital experiences... I think this generation of students is going to be better at recognizing distraction and taking control of technology rather than letting technology take control of them.