Opinion - Is twitterverse teaching harming our students?

PPTA member Ben Robson examines the impact of social media ‘fast-braining’ on students (extended from November/December 2017 PPTA News)

Is the drive to ‘modernise’ the education system helping or hindering students?

I would describe myself as a moderately cynical secondary school teacher who still loves his job. I am finding that increasingly often, I have able students in a state of anxiety, when given a task or assessment in class that should be easily manageable. One of the major contributors to the declining resilience of many students is their constant, all pervasive use of technology. The question I keep asking myself is; “are we as educators; helping or hindering students in our drive to ‘modernise’ the New Zealand school system?”

Future-focused learning embedded in the water supply

The idea of future focused learning and technology in education is now embedded in the water supply of New Zealand Secondary Schools. It is being rammed down the education sector’s throat by government, educational leaders and ‘visionaries’.

Arguments for integrating tech in education obvious

The arguments in favor of integrating technology in education are obvious and definitely have some merit. They include; improved productivity due to students submitting assignments online, improving links between home and school, an increase in engagement from students that do not find traditional learning environments effective, and more collaboration between students and teachers via programs such as Google docs and classroom.

But are students, and teachers, equipped to make the most of it?

While schools are implementing these initiatives with honorable intentions, the danger is that many students are not adequately equipped to use these technologies effectively. Perhaps more importantly, many teachers are not adequately equipped to guide students in appropriate, mindful use of technology.

Students who are at secondary schools now, are well and truly digital natives. Large parts of student’s (and everyone else’s for that matter) daily lives are now dual screened or conducted with split attention. If you think that this idea is an obvious one then you would be correct.

Fast vs slow-brained thinking

Daniel Kahneman, who in 2011 wrote the acclaimed Thinking, Fast and Slow, presents us with the idea that humans have two distinct systems of thought; system 1 and system 2, otherwise known as fast brain and slow brain.

• System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

• System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
Kahneman 2011

System 1 is our brain’s autopilot if you like. System 2 is the approach we use when confronted with a problem that requires a considered, logical response.

What does this have to do with education?

Depending on which study you choose to look at, (there are an ever increasing number) the average teenager will spend between five and nine hours a day on some form of social media (with all studies there is a definite upward trend).

Take a moment to consider that in 2013 anyone who spent two or more hours a day on social media was considered a ‘heavy user’. These ‘heavy users’ of social media are far more likely to experience negative mental health indicators which include; lowered self-esteem, anxiety, low motivation, difficulty forming healthy relationships, thoughts of self-harm and depression.

Social media thinking is fast brain thinking

Most of our time spent on social media is certainly what could be classified as system 1, or fast brain thinking. There is very little genuine, methodical thinking and mindfulness that occurs when you are scrolling a newsfeed, looking at a friend’s Instagram or snapchatting someone with a picture of your lunch.

Will Hutton addresses this issue in his column in the guardian

We need social media with heart that gives us time to think – Will Hutton

Enabling addiction

What is now happening in the education sector is that we are tacitly enabling many students system 1/fast brain social media addiction.

If you think the word addiction is a little strong then watch Simon Sinek’s illuminating talk on millenials in the workplace

Simon Sinek on Millenials in the Workplace (video)

Wonderful, intelligent, students struggling

The integration of technology and connectivity into every facet of daily life is contributing to students who lack initiative and independent learning skills. As I mentioned above; I am confronted on a daily basis with wonderful, intelligent students who want to achieve and know that it is important but struggle as soon as the prospect of applying effort arises. An assessment will be handed out to the class and some students will be literally close to tears when they are given what I would consider a totally reasonable and achievable task. The major driver of this anxiety is the fact that most of these students, due to their heavy use of social media have become accustomed to fast braining their way through life. They are becoming less resilient and less adept at using their type 2, or slow brain.

Educators inheriting a cohort of tech addicted students

I agree that we should also be teaching students self-discipline and willpower. However trying to teach a student who already spends upwards of 5 hours a day on social media about restraint is about as effective as telling an alcoholic to ‘just stop drinking’. It’s the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. As educators we are inheriting a cohort of tech addicted students. By encouraging technology in the classroom we are to an extent; tempting the addict. The addict has very little agency and choice. If the student is supposed to be writing an essay and they can easily flick over to social media or whatever fast brain compulsion they have that nanosecond, then that is what they will invariably do as they don't have the discipline.

You cannot fast-brain your way to an education

NCEA, with its numerous assessments presents an ever-growing challenge for students who spend the majority of their day in the youinstasnaptwitface alternate reality. The goal (I hope) of an education is to teach resilience, new skills and ideas. You cannot, and will never be able to, fast-brain your way to an education.

Rather than waking students up, technology in education is potentially contributing toward an unauthentic haze of apathetic knowledge acquisition.

Education system needs to evolve but support must be in place

I would certainly agree that our education system needs to keep evolving and technology certainly has a role to play. However, I’m just not convinced that enough consideration is being given to the downsides of the hyper-connected classroom, and that enough support for teachers and learners is being put in place.

The Ministry of Education in all its assessment driven wisdom, seems to be diving headlong down the rabbit hole of technology and future focused learning. We are taking our antiquated education system into the fast-brain ‘twitterverse’ without considering the consequences and more importantly, the duty of care that we should be having for the mental wellbeing and resilience of our students. As educators we are currently failing many students by neglecting to communicate the dangers of heavy use of social media.

We must help students become mindful, resilient users of technology

Schooling and education is system 2/slow brain thinking by nature. It develops self-awareness, confidence and discipline. We must make sure we help students become mindful, resilient users of technology and social media rather than slaves to clickbait. We should recognise this and make sure our education system keeps the goal of student well-being at its core.

You can also listen to Ben talk about the drive to modernise education on Radio New Zealand 

Is twitterverse teaching harming our students (audio) 

Last modified on Thursday, 23 November 2017 10:02