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Mar 10 2013

When Being Connected is Not So Great

Blog Post


Let's talk for a moment about the benefits of being connected.  At the same time, let's talk about some of the times when not being connected might be desirable.  Not too long ago, my school, in Connecticut, located not too far away from Sandy Hook, had an "issue."  A threatening note was found in the high school that threatened harm to students and staff, although no specific names were mentioned.  Needless to say, in these very nerve wracking times, the police were called in, the state police were called in, neighboring town police were called in--and so were the dogs. My particular grade was out of the building on a field trip. We were called back to the school before the field trip was over, and we were shuffled back into a building. The students from the high school had been in lockdown and evacuated into our building, so of course, the tweets, the Facebook postings, the text messages were flying invisibly through the air. In the absence of any true information, a cyber-version of the game Telephone was in action and the rumors spread like California wildfires. Anxious parents streamed to school and general chaos was the order of the day.

We, as we returned to the school now housing the evacuated high schoolers, were told to keep things normal-not that we knew anything anyway. Teachers are the last to know. But how is that possible when the text messages are flying, and the students are all on their hand-held devices. Within moments, I had a classroom of panicked children, reading text messages from older siblings who were scared, unsure of what was going on, and adding to the shark feeding frenzy.  I saw poor digital citizenship in the works. I saw people jumping the gun, and jumping online to share the immediacy of what was happening, even if those involved did not know what was happening.

The need to be connected and the opportunity to share knowledge, to produce it, and consume it is one of the most beneficial constructs of the digital world today. We can all create a better world with our shared knowledge and collaboration. We can produce as a team more than we could ever produce alone--all with a click of a key. but danger lurks.  For the first time in a long time, I  cut the cord. I shut down the digital world. I confiscated those devices. Confiscated them (the theme of a previous blog post). I took them away and spent the time talking these children down face-to-face and eye-to-eye.  I wonder how often these digital natives actually make eye contact with the people they communicate with on a daily basis. I did what my intuition told me to do. Cut the connection so that peace could settle into my classroom. I hope that I never have to do that again.

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<p>I really admire you for taking away all electronic devices and talking to your students in a personal style. For me personally I know that it is easier to send a text then actually see the person face-to-face, so I may have to try and cut ties with the digital world for a day.</p>
<p>The day of Sandy Hook, by the time I got home to my older sons, they knew more (including rumors) than I did about the event by receiving and passing messages along via cell phones to friends. So, your post resonated with me because those social connections in that given moment did not seem to be appropriate. What they needed was a conversation. Like you, I had them turn off their phones so we could talk, and among other things, I reminded them of the old "telephone game" where one bit of news gets increasingly distorted through the social lines.</p> <p>We had a similar conversation the other day, when a student in our town tried to take his own life. News spread faster than I could have imagined (even though I don't live under a rock), and we had another talk about facts and rumors and social spaces. It's a difficult path to navigate, particularly when the news is scary and dramatic, and I find it unsettling as a parent that the first instinct of kids is not to talk to a parent or teacher, but instead, to text a friend or go to Facebook.</p> <p>Thanks for sharing.</p> <p>Kevin</p>