Teens and Tech: Problems or Progress?

As technology becomes a more and more integrated part of our lives, school aged children are increasingly leaving their digital footprints all over the social web. Many of us are familiar with the scandals that seem to surround teens and technology, from cheating to sexting and everything in between- it seems we have a hard time keeping control of our teens in the digital world. In a TEDxDesMoines talk, Scott McLeod starts right off the bat by highlighting such negative issues involving teenagers, schools and technology, however; he quickly flips the narrative, spotlighting teens who are using technology outside the classroom to achieve digital greatness. His main idea- let go of control and give students technological freedom in the classroom. Check out his talk and then scroll down to read my reaction and reflections:

In this particular talk, Scott McLeod advocates for empowering students to use the technology they are interacting with in the extracurricular capacity in the classroom. As a self-proclaimed technology un-savvy digital visitor I am slowly learning how to appropriately integrate meaningful experiences with technology into the classroom and, even though I am wary, I have realized that bringing our classrooms full of students into the digital age isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I believe technology offers an outlet for students and allows them genuine, authentic, and interactive experiences in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity- the 4C’s. However, I question whether this approach and shift towards a digital classroom will bring with it progress, or create more problems. Based on the claims, ideas, and assertions in the TEDx talk, I have two major points of contention: monitoring and backlash.

One of the biggest issues teachers have when considering how to use technology and social networking in the classroom is how to monitor what our students are putting out, and keep them safe online. In an example from the TEDx video, a young student started blogging about her sub-par school lunches and “people start[ed] paying attention.”

So here, a few questions come to mind: Who started paying attention? What are they paying attention to? Are these appropriate and well-intended individuals? Whose responsibility is it to monitor their interaction, if they posted from my classroom?

If we give students unlimited creativity and digital freedom, how do we monitor and lead them in the right direction within our classrooms? In addition, if our students are set on discussing and exposing inappropriate, dangerous, or taboo topics, how does a teacher handle that in their classroom? McLeod provides no mention of this, choosing to highlight only the appropriate uses of technology. However, I do have to stop here again to give technology and the digital social web some kudos. In the school lunch blog example, other students were inspired to also create and digitally share their school lunches- providing a voice to and offering perspective on school lunches from students around the globe. Again though, I am plagued with the question: who is responsible for, and how do they monitor the followers our students gain in the digital classroom? From what I can gather, this responsibility seems to be ambiguously shifted around, ultimately falling on the shoulders of the classroom teacher- we are responsible for what happens in our classroom. Digital social media is a magnificent outlet for students’ voices to be heard and expressed, to interact with others around the world, and open their minds to countless possibilities, but; is it fair to add another thing to our plates and task classroom teachers with such an overwhelming and unknown role?

In keeping with our train of thinking, let’s say we’ve gotten over the monitoring and safety issues. For me, the next question that arises is, what happens when something from your use of technology and the digital social web in the classroom upsets the administration, school board, or parents and community members? Back to the school lunch blog example; in this case the school board got wind of the content of her blog posts and prohibited the young student from further posting- social media caused a riot, forcing the school board to address the issue reevaluate its school lunches. This course of action is the exception, not the norm. When discussing how to deal with backlash from administration and parents, it is important to very clearly understand that not every issue is going to go viral and explode on social media- the majority of teachers and students are going to get quietly censored. McLeod makes it out that teachers are trying to to take away creativity and freedom when students become members of the digital social web, however; what he fails to mention is that the reality is, we teach in an educational system where there is a huge disconnect between teachers and administration. He talks about how teachers fear students’ use of technology and therefore try to control it, but I would venture to say the fear does not lie in what students can do online, but in what the administrations power will do to the teacher if it does not approve.

Ultimately, McLeod’s parting words are to

“Get out of their way and let them be amazing.”

This powerful statement needs not only to be applied to teachers giving up control of their students’ use of technology in the classroom, but also to administration. When teachers are trying to expand the young minds in their classrooms, whether or not they are using technology and social networking, administration could contribute to yielding brilliant young thinkers, if they would only get out of the way and let them be amazing.



TEDxDesMoins Extracurricular Empowerment 

 The New York Times, At Top School, Cheating Voids 70 Pupils’ Tests

 Your Erie State Police Cite Fairview Middle School Teens for Sexting

 David White Visitors and Residents



Scott McLeod

Martha and her Dad



Chicago Tribute Teachers Put to Test by Digital Cheats

Mashable 5 Ways Students Use Technology to Cheat

 M Live ‘Sexting’ on the Rise 

The Guardian Teenagers and Technology: “I’d rather give up my kidney than my phone” 

Tech Hub 10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints

 Teach Thought Exploring a Teens Digital Footprint in 6 Clicks or Less

Ad Week Meet 12 of the Biggest Stars on YouTube 


Published by

Robyn W

Marymount University graduate student. Future teacher, lifelong learner. Brunch enthusiast.

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