Sunday, February 9, 2014

Viewing Technology through the Lens of Mission

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/499144126/in/photostream/
Some schools are more willing to embrace technology than others.  Quite frankly, this is beginning to puzzle me deeply.  I understand the concerns that many adults raise regarding their fears for student safety, the inability of many students to comport themselves appropriately in the on-line world, and the lack of a clear understanding of how to meaningfully integrate technology.  After all, it is the teaching that is important, not the tools, right?

As a Catholic educator, I understand all of this.  However, I would like to counter all of these reasonable concerns with the fact that as Catholic (you can actually insert any religious denomination here that is in the business of education) educators, we are in a unique position to do more than just simply bring technology into the classroom.  We have the amazing ability to teach morals.  We get to talk about God (yes, I said it) openly.  We have the chance to teach our students through the lens of faith and mission.  What a gift!  For this reason, I would like to argue that EVERY faith-based school needs to develop strong, visionary plans for the meaningful incorporation of technology.

It really doesn't matter what grade level you teach.  Every student needs to learn how to function in the virtual world.  So as Catholic educators, we have the opportunity to teach our students not only how to be good digital citizens, but we can filter that process through the lens of our school mission and charism.  This is, as I said, a true gift.  Our students can openly be taught to apply the famed WWJD acronym to all of their behaviors, from the playground to cyberspace.

Once they have mastered that and are on their way to becoming strong reflections of the school mission, then let's take technology to the next level.  We are always teaching our students about the need to be bearers of justice in this world.  Let's find ways to use technology to spread the message of peace and justice.  Our Religious Studies Department Chair has involved his students in the Face2Faith project (http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org) which our students have really enjoyed.  We need to be actively using technology to flatten our classrooms, introduce our students to the world around them and begin to encourage real problem solving.  After all, school is nothing if all the students do is take in information.  They need to apply what they are learning to develop solutions.  In a conversation with a dear friend the other day who teaches at a Jewish Day school, she shared with me that her goal is to help instill in her students how technology can be used to perform mitzvah.  We need to always be encouraging our students to create with technology, not consume from technology.  And in our faith-based classrooms I believe we have a definite advantage.

But this starts with allowing our students to experience the world through technology.  Younger students can learn about other cultures through mystery Skype calls, follow @theACEbus and then develops social lessons around the bus' current location.  Older students can contribute to class blogs that are focused on justice issues in the world, or learn about the countries the Olympic athletes are from and then explore solutions to a challenge that exists there.  It's really pretty easy to come up with ideas once you just allow your mind to think beyond the boundaries of walls--real or virtual (as in firewalls) that might exist on your campus.  

Technology is pervasive in our society,  and kids are really smart.  If we tell them "no", they will figure out how to hack it--and become bitter in the process.  If we tell them "yes" and direct their exploration to be focused on creating good, in mindful and intentional ways, then we will be doing our part to ensure that the next generation will be living the mission and charisms that we believe so passionately in.  

Now, I'm not saying to tear down all the safeguards and just open up your campus to technology.  That would be irresponsible.  I am saying that you need to consider curricular goals at every grade level, and then explore how technology can enhance those goals. Social media, for example, should be in the hands of the teachers only until well into high school.  But that doesn't mean that the class can't be learning from social media with direction from the teacher.  Middle school students do need to start learning about cyber-bullying.  In our classrooms we can add the faith dimension to those conversations.  And the students need to be able to practice what they are being told to preach or it is meaningless.  High school students have to learn to curate their digits footprint in a meaningful way so that future colleges and employers will notice them.  Students of all levels need to learn how to manage the vast amount of information available.  This is important for so many reasons, not the least of which is that we ultimately want them creating meaningful content themselves as they document their solutions to real problems.  So scaffolded their access--younger children are driven to specific, curated sites.  Older children are given the tools to evaluate information for themselves.  

However you choose to incorporate technology is a decision for your site.  You know your audience best.  But do not ban technology.  This is not a modern witch hunt.  This is a time of great possibility.  We have a responsibility to lead our students and parents in a pastoral way to understand the positive uses of technology.  We have a mission to educate.  If we choose to ignore technology, then we might as well choose to not educate because our students will not be getting a complete education.  Our parents rely on us to give their children the best education possible and we can no longer do that if we are ignoring technology.  

I welcome your comments.