As we increasingly rely on technology in our daily lives and in the classroom, it’s hard not to think about the ways in which technology is changing the way we interact with each other. In the classroom, technology is making wonderful progress in the individualized learning department, but it can also build subtle barriers to teacher-student interactions.
In fact, as personal learning devices are integrated in classrooms nationwide, teachers will need to make the effort to connect with students on a human level and not just through technology. There’s no denying that most of us are engrossed daily with technology. The attachment is evident in just about every public place. Mobile devices, for many of us, have become our closest friend. In April, the Telegraph reported on toddlers becoming so addicted to their iPads that they required therapy.
While this is an extreme case, it’s not too far from reality. The mobile device has become our community hub. It’s where we go for information and to socialize. It’s the new water cooler. In short, our most intimate relationship is with a machine.
In my observations both inside and outside the classroom, I’ve noticed the relationship with the device to be the most prevalent. This is not to say that teachers are no longer connecting with students, but the devices seem to take precedence. Walk down any city street or attend any event, and you’ll notice this intimate relationship taking place; head tilted down and thumbs vigorously moving. Sherry Turkle highlights this new environment in her book Alone Together and addresses it in her TED talk. Turkle articulates the oxymoron of being isolated yet thinly connected to a large group of people. It’s a strange concept, but one that should cause us all to pause and consider our online and offline relationships. We have the ability to connect with the world like never before, but are we really making meaningful connections?
And while technology will continue to integrate into societies and classrooms around the globe, how do we, as educators, build a classroom community comprised of meaningful relationships that can coexist with a device? How do we build classroom community amongst the machines?
“Friend” as Noun Instead of Verb
The answer lies in how the teacher decides to embrace new technologies without allowing them to fill in for or take the place of personal relationships. While this may seem challenging in today’s connected classroom, being a flexible teacher is key to building a strong community. It requires balance and patience not to rush into technology just because technology is available. It prompts teachers to consider how the physical space can be used as a vehicle for building a community. Ultimately, creating a classroom community demands that the teacher facilitate this process.
To start, many may think that the obvious choice for building a community is a robust learning management system (LMS). While an LMS is a great tool for creating efficient workflows and organizing a classroom, it really builds a wall between the student and teacher. What’s more, diving straight into an LMS produces an assembly line feeling in your classroom. Most of the students and teachers I talk to feel that it’s a burden to read through a discussion thread and respond. Similarly, these same students and teachers also express a sense of being alone even though they are connected. The relationships are thin and practically non-existent, yet the feeling of connectedness is present. If you’ve ever taken an online or virtual course, you can probably relate to these sentiments. But how many of you remember the classmates or colleagues who were in that online course with you? I’d venture to say those personalities are lost.