It became clear in mid-March that most of the nation’s schools would have to close for weeks that could turn into months. There ensued then a mad rush to get electronic devices into the hands of students. The nation’s school districts spent millions of dollars in the effort, and probably billions once the final tallies come in. Hand wringing over lack of internet access for rural and low income students quickly followed. When all was said and done, however, many of the nation’s students were engaged in some kind of internet-based learning by the first week of April.
And for what? One Florida school district set the goal of having students complete “at least one assignment each day.” I am acquainted with a freshman and a junior in another Florida school district who spend fewer than two hours each day on their internet-based school work, and a large portion of that time is squandered waiting for completed assignments to upload. Zoombombing has occurred to the horror of teachers and students. With each passing week attendance wains in many Florida school districts, and some teachers refuse to take attendance. Certainly there is no single reason this internet schooling doesn’t seem to be as successful as many had hoped, but I suggest that it can even be detrimental to the habits of good students.
From the beginning of our campus closure at Trinitas, rather than rush to full-time internet-based instruction, we have sent assignments home via a weekly packet distribution system. (It should go without saying that this not a perfect replacement for regular school either.) Our teachers have tailored assignments to the home environment where mom and dad are likely also working during this strange quarantine-like season. The goal has been to minimize what some call “busy work” and to build on creative assignments that get students reading, thinking, discussing, and responding. Some teachers sent home great assignments from the very first packet while others have improved over time.
Trinitas has opted to use internet-based instruction sparingly. Our teachers have only used internet-based instruction for high school math and science thus far. This instruction has consisted mostly of videos wherein teachers instruct through a few difficult problems so that the students can apply what they have seen and heard to a set of similar problems. This is only a skeleton of what happens in a real classroom, but then we are forging ahead the best we can without a real classroom. Nothing quite takes the place of being together in the classroom.
Some folks have been surprised that Trinitas is using any internet-based instruction at all because the school speaks out frequently about the dangers of technology. That is fair. There is, however, a difference between using technology as a tool and using technology for the gluttonous consumption of entertainment, such as playing Fortnite until 3am or binge watching The Office all night, for example. Also, the dangers of technology are very real for teenagers who have smartphones that every single day gain them access to information and get them into situations they are not mature enough to navigate. Trinitas is not advocating for using technology in those ways just like the school would not suggest parents park their three-year-olds in front of videos all day so the parents can have some peace. Our use of technology has been as a tool, limited in scope to helping students understand difficult concepts in math and science.
Still, there is a downside: there are detriments associated even with technology that is being used as a tool. While there may be many such detriments, three loom large for students receiving internet-based instruction: passivity, shortened attention span, and diminished imagination. To be fair, there is a lot of overlap between entertainment use and tool use of technology. What I mean to say is more often than not students bring habits from their entertainment use of technology into their tool use of technology. That overlap is manifested in the three detriments aforementioned. Next week, I’ll talk more about what parents can do to avoid these three detriments and what Trinitas is doing to lessen their effect on our limited use of internet-based instruction during this crisis.