I can still remember being a part of what is now called the "backchannel" of the school classroom. Like everyone else, I passed notes to my friends and snickered rebelliously when the teacher wasn't looking. Today, the "backchannel" consists of texting, Tweeting and uploading to Facebook pages. Originally, school administrators were busy drafting policies about confiscating cell phones and acceptable laptop use. Look inside classrooms nowadays and it's clear just how much times have changed. Many educators are now embracing technology and leveraging social media to motivate students.
From public elementary schools to prestigious liberal arts colleges, educators are taking creative pedagogy to the next step on the digital frontier. iPads are replacing textbooks and microblogging in virtual classrooms has become an alternative to classroom discussions. Advocates believe it keeps students current with technology. More importantly, proponents point out it encourages critical thinking and wider classroom participation.
While I understand the real-time digital stream may create a safe harbor for students uncomfortable expressing themselves, it seems to me students are missing valuable lessons in real-life social skills. Believe it or not, I was very shy as a child and certainly would have appreciated the ability to communicate via blogging or texting. However, I am grateful that I didn't have the choice. I needed to be to be forced to raise my hand and respond or to stand up to read a report.
Students will still find themselves at a college admission or job interview where they will need to command attention and deliver a message. At social gatherings and in personal relationships, they need to be able to express themselves and connect.
It's exciting that teachers have technology and social media as new tools to educate young people. However, I hope that educators will be mindful that the classroom is one of the greatest environments for young people to develop strong verbal skills and self-confidence that will serve them well in their lives ahead.