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  • Joe Haig

Masters or Slaves?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Power is rapidly transferring to the digitally literate. I want my children, and yours, to be on the right end of that shift. To quote James Curran, founder of the Australian Computer Academy and the creator of Grok, “Be the masters of digital technologies, not the slaves.” The deeper our understanding of digital technologies and how algorithms work, the better positioned we are to make them work for us.


Last Monday professor of neuroscience Mark Williams presented the findings of his research into smartphone use in a speech entitled “Are Smartphones Making us Dumb?” If you work with children this research is well worth checking out - there’s an overview here .


This information is highly relevant to educators in Australia because our country is the world leader in device integration and 1:1 programs in schools. Key points include the fact that information acquired digitally isn’t retained as well as information acquired by other means and that true collaboration tends to decrease when students are working digitally.


This report from Macquarie University is a timely reminder to ensure learners are involved in “high value” activities on their digital devices - tasks that not only teach them technical skills, but enable them to acquire valuable secondary skills and a feeling of empowerment and control. It's easy for children (and us) to become "slaves" to our Smartphones but it's also easy to leverage digital technologies to improve our lives.


The findings of the report support the argument for a digilogue approach to teaching and learning, i.e. a strategy that doesn't lean too heavily into digital technologies but engages students in the "analogue world" as well. To enhance information retention, why not encourage students to use digital devices to record information they acquire during real world learning tasks? We can support physical, face to face collaboration by requiring multiple students to share one device when working on a task.


And keeping students on track and in control of their learning is easier than ever - it's just a matter of making active monitoring a part of your school’s culture. If you’re using iPads you can use Classroom to monitor your students’ activity, while Go Guardian is a great solution for Chromebooks. Children should get used to the idea that their activity is monitored and that they are accountable for their digital activity - it’s good preparation for the real world.


As teachers we’re preparing our students to thrive in the future, to shape it. I can’t think of any future scenario where weak minds, bad memories, depression, and poor social skills will be helpful. The future is bright but we need to be smart in the way we use technology into our classrooms.