An uphill battle

Part of my PDN is my facebook feed. Having been a teacher for a while now, lots of my friends on facebook are teachers. Every day I get several articles linked on facebook which are usually based upon education matters in the UK. (EDIT: There was actually a post by Edutopia set as reading for this week which was also linked to this topic)

An article the other day caught my attention though. This article in The Guardian focused its story upon a school in the West of England that enforced a ‘digital detox’ upon its students. This meant that students were not allowed to use digital devices during the school day and during home time (voluntarily) for one week. The reasoning given by the school is that students had several issues relating to the use of technology:

  • Calorie counting and counting steps.
  • Addiction to social media.

The problem I see with the article is that the solution proposed is not that of educating young people how to use technology appropriately or about body positivity. The solution is detox, a digital diet. Herein lies the problem I see. Food diets are typically periods of time where people eat differently so their body loses weight, become slimmer, move weight around etc. When you leave the diet however the body can revert, meaning dieting needs to be regular. Instead, educate people how to eat well, drink plenty of water and how to exercise as part of their regular schedule. This way weight can be lost for good. The students detox might, for a week, help students lead more offline lives, but in the long term doesn’t solve the issues faced. The school is missing the chance to educate students about the power of social media to learn, using it responsibly and embracing it as a powerful learning tool. It is also treating it similarly to treating a smoker – going cold turkey is a hard and fast way to quit smoking, but social media (unlike smoking hopefully!) is not going away and we shouldn’t let our students get behind.

Another problem I see with this is that of the older generation staff not understanding new methods of socialising that new generations are a part of. Older generations see the internet as a way students will start isolating themselves from others, that face to face will become a thing of the past. But didn’t they have telephone? Didn’t their parents write letters? The past is littered with the prophecies of society claiming the new communication method will destroy human interaction.

Michio Kaku believes the caveman theory, which suggests that our ancient DNA has preprogrammed us to seek that face-to-face contact.


And while it is very much a theory, we see evidence that we continue to seek human as opposed to digital interactions:

  • Five of the biggest ten music concerts in history have been during the internet age. Glastonbury attendance has still sold out 134000 tickets during the past 8 years despite rising costs. (
  • Despite numerous good quality video streaming websites, business meetings continue to meet face-to-face. People continue to move into cities and 80% of UN members have plans to reduce rural to urban migration. People move to urban environments for many reasons, but it is still seemingly important for people to go into work as opposed to work exclusively from home (despite evidence of productivity boosts working from home).
  • International Travel is set to increase by 35% over the next decade, according to a report by VISA. The ability of Virtual Reality, Google Street View, Travel Blogs etc are not discouraging people from going to see places themselves.
  • Selfies of people with famous people. A search for ‘Justin Bieber’ yields a great many image results. I can see Justin Bieber anytime I want. I can also find pictures of other peoples selfies with Justin. Despite this, fans continue to flock to his concerts, try to get their own pictures of him, and even better get a picture with him. in fact some reports say he was charging $2000 for a selfie with him in 2005.
Would you pay $2000 for a selfie with the Biebs?

Would you pay $2000 for a selfie with the Biebs?

So technology seems unlikely to destroy our need to be with other people. In fact one huge benefit many people have found through technology is the ability to meet people through meetup websites or online dating websites. The internet is being used to seek relationships with others.

The problems the Stroud School reported are real, but simply removing technology is not a permanent solution. Of course students have more time for homework when they don’t have their phone, but then are you substituting their social education for their academic education? One student who struggles with managing her homework and snapchat needs to be taught how to use technology to either manage it, or to learn management techniques for this.

Sadly, reading the comments at the end of the article highlights another problem. 517 comments, largely from people who appear to believe that computers and mobile phones have no place in a students life:

Example A (random selection)


IGNORANCE - Comment1

Example B (random selection)

IGNORANCE - Comment2

Clearly there needs to be much in terms of professional development for teachers, of how this technology can be leveraged for good in the classroom, and to teach students how to utilize social media for all the positive elements. Parents also need educating as to the merits of social media in education and need to be on board with how to help their children to use it well.

It is ironic maybe that I found the article through facebook. The very platform being derided is the same platform being used to distribute a thought provoking article regarding the use of technology in education.

2 thoughts on “An uphill battle

  1. Alex, wow so many interesting facts in your post! I’m currently fishing in New Zealand and have screen shotted your post to read on the boat. It’s convenient timing- but also ironic, you said “students have more time for homework when they don’t have their phone” but I couldn’t do my homework right now without it. I would like to think that I have management techniques for using my technology. 🙂

    So, last night my cousins were in trouble and had their phones taken away. This was our first time in 10 days we had a meal without phones. This later lead me to read this article on The 21st-Century Way to Punish Kids . It was quite an engaging read on technology usage and punishment. “Tablets and smartphones feel so good to these children, in fact, that 41% of them will choose time with the devices over dessert if given the choice (33% would favor dessert).” This quote stands out to me because I would definitely choose dessert, but not my cousin. He was actually in tears after having his phone away from him for four hours. It’s surprising how addicting a handheld device can be.

    Anyway, the whole family decided to leave their phones behind for the night. We laughed and had a great time together, and the only reason we missed the phone was for a picture with Don, the 81 year old bagpipe player (but don’t worry the waiter sent us a picture). So as I’m reading your post now, I’m having a discussion with my aunt about social media. We have done “social media free weekends” but really what is the point? Our social media usage always goes back to the way it was. Integrating purposeful social media free time into daily/weekly scheduling would be more beneficial. Are there any specific strategies you try to use? My uncle met a family here that has no internet at home- but I’m thinking WHY!?!?

    Also, I would not pay $2000 for a selfie with the Biebs- but I did in fact have a ride with the same driver he had in New Zealand. I was pretty stoked about that!

  2. Great points here Alex. I get frustrated with the all or nothing approach as well. I love your connection to dieting. Its so true. Devices are not going to disappear any more than cookies and cake or Big Macs. Its all about the choices that we make. I see our job as educators to set examples and have conversations. I also agree that this conversation has to include parents. We can talk all day about proper use, but the parents need to be aware and setting an example as well. My kids love to call me out for being on my phone, but they also love using SnapChat or text (with me, they are much too young to have their own phones) to communicate with their cousins and grandparents.

    @abbisand,I think there should be a no phone rule on a fishing boat too. 🙂 Oh, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pay $2000 for a selfie with anyone.

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