Avoiding the pitfalls of popular technology!

Technology is intended to make our lives easier in the classroom. However, there can be unforeseen consequences! From social media mishaps to students who won’t get off of their smartphones, here are some ways to cope with — and avoid — the pitfalls of popular technology.

1. Educate your students and yourself

As tech-savvy as students can be, I find they often lack the most basic common sense about digital citizenship. But that does not mean that they can’t learn! Common Sense Media, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, offers lesson plans, units, and teaching tools for all grade levels regarding digital citizenship, including digital literacy. Teach your students how to be responsible technology users. This is not just a classroom skill but a life necessity!

2. Protect yourself

Be careful with social media. Even if your settings are private and your account is difficult to find, assume that anyone — including students, their parents, and administrators — can read what you’re posting. Many teachers have gotten into trouble because of their postings, and the media isn’t shy about reporting on these incidents. Be cautious, too, about your profile information on these sites, and the people whom you follow and follow you.

Do occasional searches of your name on Google and social media sites.  You may find a past mistake come back to haunt you, and there may not be much you can do about it (though there is some advice here on what to do). You may also find identity theft. Several years ago, a Google search of my husband’s name revealed a fake profile on a social media site we had never even heard of. The profile picture was my husband, but it was a picture we don’t own. We contacted the site and had the profile removed.

Finally, should you find any evidence of bullying, threats, or illegal activity while on social media or hear of it from a student, you need to report it to the appropriate person in your building. In my class, Twitter in particular has been a source of student conflict. Although students know that public profiles are monitored, they still make unwise posts.

3. Make clear rules and consequences

From the first day of school, establish clear expectations, rules, and consequences regarding technology; then, consistently enforce them.  Whatever rules you have, make sure your students fully understand them!

Plagiarism is another issue. I have a clear policy about plagiarism: it’s not tolerated at all. But I make sure that students understand what plagiarism is and teach them how to avoid it. Also, since I teach seniors, who must write a thesis paper as a graduation requirement, I use Turnitin.com.  TurnItIn allows students to check their own work for plagiarism before the assignment is due, so it’s a learning tool as well.

4. Set a good example

If we don’t want our students on their phones during class time, we shouldn’t be on ours either. I keep my phone on vibrate and in an unobtrusive place. As the wife of a NYC firefighter and the mother of two small children, emergencies have happened. In those (fortunately rare) instances, I explain to my students why I need to use the phone. In turn, if a student has a genuine emergency, I’ll let him leave the room to use his phone. Students appreciate that I give them my full attention and thus, they are more likely to do so in return.

5. Schedule some technology free time

Sometimes the amount of technology surrounding us is overwhelming, and can even affect our health (carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, an obsession to beat a level on a game).  Don’t bring your technology to bed (it can cause problems falling asleep).

And, every once in a while, it’s nice to be technology free.  My family recently spent the weekend camping in Montauk. I begrudgingly left my laptop at home (I didn’t want it getting sandy or overheated in a tent or car).  When we arrived, we discovered that our iPhones were useless, since there was little to no service. After the initial panic, I enjoyed it. So what if I couldn’t check my email, text, or tweet? I enjoyed simply being with my family in a beautiful setting that no device could rival.