As a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” this is not the first time that I’ve made a comment similar to this one.
After writing this comment on Friday, I promised to follow-up this 140 character thought with a blog post that shares more. Not every conversation works well in little snippets, and I think that a longer conversation is one worth having.
For many years, I’ve been called and/or viewed as a “technology teacher.” I’ve had some different thoughts on this, but no matter how I may feel about the label, it’s true that I love using technology to support student learning. I’ve used it in different ways from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I think that technology can be a great way to share learning with a wider audience (from classrooms to parents), support critical and higher level thinking skills, allow for collaboration beyond the school walls, and allow all students to succeed (just search for UDL and assistive technology to find out more). Despite all of the benefits of technology, my new learning about self-regulation is making me look closer at the drawbacks. Over this past year, I have re-read Stuart Shanker‘s first book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, and read his second one, Self-Reg: How To Help Your Child (And You) Break The Stress Cycle And Successfully Engage With Life. I’ve also finished the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre, and joined The MEHRIT Centre team as the moderator for Portal Plus. All of these self-regulation experiences have made it hard for me not to view my personal and professional life through this lens. It’s for this reason that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about self-regulation and technology.
For the past two years, I’ve used way less technology in the classroom than I have in any other year. In fact, we’ve primarily only used technology to capture student learning and for physical activity and movement exercises, such as dancing. Why? I’ve blogged about this topic before, and in my previous blog posts, I concluded that the “students weren’t ready.” Now though, I wonder if the reason is really about self-regulation. After reading Dr. Shanker‘s books, I learned how dysregulating technology can be. It’s full of bright lights and loud sounds. Gaming apps, while incredibly popular, can also make it harder for students to calm down after using them. I didn’t just have to read about this though. I’ve experienced it.
I think about when I introduced coding to my Kindergarten and Grade 1 students. In Kindergarten, we used Dash and Dot and Cubelets robots. In Grade 1, we used numerous apps from Tynker to Scratch. All of the students were highly engaged using these tools, and demonstrated some amazing problem solving, collaboration, and math skills, but the students were also louder, many talked faster, and they found it difficult to sit still, wait while others worked, and not interrupt during conversations. I thought that the changes in the students were just reflective of their engagement and the excitement in the learning. Maybe to some degree, they were. But I’m starting to wonder if it was more than that. Were they dysregulated?
I keep thinking back to the first time that we used Dash and Dot in our Kindergarten class this year. The students loved it so much that we kept it out all day for them to use and explore. This led though to more screaming, higher voices, more fighting, and an inability to concentrate on almost anything else. Could it be because Dash and Dot were new? Maybe. But maybe with the beeping sounds, bright lights, and constant movement, the robots were too dysregulating. When we made a change the next day, and just took them out for one block of time that then transitioned into our outdoor learning time — and a great way for all of our students to calm down — we had far less problems.
I definitely think that coding and robotics are great ways to use technology in the classroom, but coupled with my self-regulation learning, I wonder about those students that do find these tools dysregulating. I also wonder, if as a teacher, I found the constant noise, lights, and movement of the robots to be dysregulating, and did this impact on my actions and responses in the classroom? Have others noticed links between technology and dysregulation? How do you address these problems? I don’t think that the answer lies in getting rid of technology (to one extreme) and/or in ignoring the problems (to the other), but I do continue to wonder what a good middle ground may be. And maybe, just like the SELF part of self-regulation, a different group of students with different needs, may have responded differently given these same tech tools (with few, if any, problems). Possibly the need for limits in some cases may not exist in others, but I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and experiences.