*Image thanks to Robert Lawton (Robert Lawton) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
I have so many conversations with teachers and parents about their fear that students will spend so much time in front of a screen that they will lose the ability to relate to people face to face. As a parent of two kids, I understand this fear. We have rules in our house to limit screen time and talk often about the importance of balancing screen time with being active and spending time with family.
However, I am finding that many teachers and parents want to view schools as the last bastion of offline activity. They believe we need to teach kids how to act offline and they will learn how to act online somewhere else. Here is my problem with that premise:
It doesn't work!
First, most of the online activity of kids outside of school is unsupervised. So who exactly is teaching them what to do? Kids need guides in the online world. They need to learn not only where to go, but how to know who to trust, how to communicate, and what to do when others don't abide by the same rules.
For many kids, online activity equals gaming. While this creates an opportunity to interact with others online, many kids do not view online spaces as learning spaces. If we do not introduce them to new positive ways of using the Internet, what will they make of it?
We need to introduce students to the many wonderful opportunities that are available online. Research, creation, collaboration, communication. These are essential skills for them and we have a responsibility to teach them how to use them effectively.
Some have told me that they mourn the loss of face to face conversation in their classroom or students working together offline. Do we really believe these will go away? Today students access the Internet a small fraction of the time they are in school. If we bump that up to half the time, they will still interact offline half the time. This is a balanced approach. Just like my kids at home know that they need to balance their online time with physical activity, we need to teach our students to do the same, but this does not mean limiting their access to the Internet? To get a balanced approach, we need to begin to provide them more opportunity to use the Internet for educational purposes.
Who knows, maybe they will start balancing their time at home as well!