Technology and Distractability

I’m writing this at parent teacher interviews. As an IT teacher, I’m not in as high demand as the English and homeroom teachers. Most of the students in my class are there because they want to be. So I have time.

I can mark work, prepare lessons and write articles.

When I do manage to talk to a parent, sometimes they’ll find out that I had a lot to do with implementing the iPad program at the school and invariably I’ll get the comment: “How do I stop him from wasting time on the iPad?”

There are a few options here, depending on how diplomatic I’m feeling. For the most part, these work both in the classroom and at home.

1. Not at all diplomatic: You’re the parent. You rule the roost. Put some rules in place that mean that he doesn’t do things he’s not meant to do.

2. Slightly more diplomatic: Have a conversation with your wayward child. What are they using the iPad for? How important are the various different activities? How much time does he realistically need to properly stay in touch with friends and have some leisure time? And then come up with a mutually negotiated timetable for class use versus leisure use. And of course, if the timetable isn’t upheld, you stop being diplomatic and go back to step 1.

all the wonderful things an iPad can do.

3. Very diplomatic: If the work your son is required to do on his iPad isn’t challenging enough or hasn’t been explained properly, then a confused student is a student who ends up on social media. Tablets are incredibly powerful machines. With the proper motivation, students could be inspired to create a movie, make an interactive app or design a scavenger hunt. With no motivation, they can Google the answer, copy and paste work into a Keynote and hand in a Pages document called Blank 43 (which is probably very accurate).

The reality is somewhere between all of that. You are the parents, and you do have the ability to place restrictions on your child’s use of technology at home. The teachers at school are in a similar situation. Any restrictions placed on a student should be made in conjunction with the student, to limit the amount of resentment and rebellion involved.

Your job as parents is to be aware of what your child is meant to be doing and what they’re actually doing and modify the ratio between the two so that the work gets done.

Our job as teachers is to make sure that the work that they do on their tablet is valuable and stimulating and not just busy work that we don’t want to mark as much as they don’t want to do it.

Sorry, did that answer the question?

Cyber Safety discussion

Extras CoverEverybody wants to be famous. We are rapidly moving towards a world run by a reputation economy. Don’t believe me? Read Scott Westerfeld’s Extras. It’s not that far from today’s reality. Basically, the more friends you have and the more Likes you get on a status update or a photo, the more important you are and the “richer” you become.

And we could argue the merits of this for ages and not get anywhere. The world of social media is a world that considers privacy an outmoded concept. The Internet knows where you are and what you are doing at all times, and the majority of teens have no problem with that.

Your digital footprintI’m not judging. I have a very large online footprint, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn. I even have a MySpace page (although I haven’t opened it in ten years). Being online isn’t evil. Promoting yourself isn’t wrong.

The conversation that has to be had between parents and students is the quality of your online reputation. Ask your child (and for good measure, ask yourself) how they think they are seen on Social Media. What are the words people would use to describe them? What sort of pictures and status updates are they posting and how does that make them look to the outside world?

Over the past few years, St James has made it a priority to talk to our students about the importance of knowing who you are sharing your information with. It is a fact of life that many of the “friends” our boys have on various Social Media sites are people they have never met, and in some cases, people they don’t even know. Logically, if you have 1500 friends on Facebook, some of them will be strangers. Again, try not to judge. The concept of “Friend” on social media is different to the traditional meaning of the word. A more accurate term would be “Contact”. These are people who share their interests, even if they haven’t met IRL (In Real Life). Unfortunately, Facebook’s insistence in using the term “Friend” gives users of the site an artificial sense of familiarity with these strangers they have invited into their lives.

Again, this is where it is time to talk to your child. Ask him how many contacts he has on various Social Media sites. How many of these people does he know IRL? What information about him can they find out from looking at his profile information, pictures and posts? And what are the possible dangers involved in giving strangers access to this information?

Talk to him about Privacy settings. Most of the boys I have talked to over the past few years have an excellent grasp of privacy settings and actually do care about keeping private information from strangers. The problem is, they don’t consider their 1500 friends “strangers”, even if they have no idea who some of them really are.

brave new world coverOnce more, and as I will do at the end of each of these articles, I must stress that a knee-jerk “the Internet is evil and I must protect my child from it!” reaction to Social Media could do more damage to your son or daughter than simply talking to them about issues and trying to understand this Brave New World. A few simple safety precautions and conversations will do far more for your child’s safety.

A pirate’s life for me!

Australians everywhere cursed the day that Foxtel bought the rights to Grand Designs UK. Well, I say Grand Designs UK. I mean Game of Thrones. We cursed, and yet, around the water cooler on the day after each episode was released in the States, there was in-depth discussion on the plot of the episode.

Piracy takes a huge toll on the entertainment industry. It is romanticised or belittled by the various “pirates”:

“I’m striking a blow for Australian viewers! If they were faster getting it to us, we wouldn’t have to download it!”

“It’s exactly like watching it on TV, just at a different time.”

I’m not here to argue the rights and wrongs of video and music piracy. At the moment, piracy – downloading TV shows, movies, music and games without paying for them – is illegal and therefore I want you to start a dialogue with your sons, my piratical students.

On every second USB that is left in a computer room, there can be found albums of music, seasons of television and entire new release movies. So it’s a problem, and the solution is:

“Talk to your child about it!”

Some conversation starters:

Who is hurt by the theft of music, movies and TV shows?

Consider the artists, producers, designers, actors, marketing people and the product itself. If nobody buys a TV show, then the TV show is cancelled.

What are the dangers to your household?

Because of the popularity of file sharing and lack of policing, it is a haven for viruses and explicit content. Unscrupulous people will distribute viruses named after the latest episode of a popular TV show, but with a different extension. Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are used for distribution of illegal pornography and there is no guarantee that the video you want is the video you’ll get. Not to mention the more mundane problems of horrible quality videos and TV dubbed into Scandinavian with German subtitles.

Secondly, do you know what your monthly download limit is? If you have a limit, you may be eligible for extra charges if you go over that limit. Otherwise, your speed will be severely limited and slow Internet is an excellent way to test family relationships.

What are the possible consequences of illegally downloading?

Usually, if you are caught downloading, you’ll receive a notice from your ISP saying that a certain company has noticed you illegally distributing content and asking the ISP to make you stop. The ISP will usually give you a warning, but after that, you could lose your Internet account and be blacklisted.

It is important to realise that because you are downloading from the Internet, you are not just dealing with Australian law, and you could be prosecuted by agencies outside of Australia. It’s rare for an Australian to be prosecuted, unless they are deliberately making money from distribution, but not unheard of, and fines can extend into hundreds of thousands of dollars for serious offences.

What are the legal alternatives?

Almost every TV station has their own TV streaming app or website to allow you to watch TV and movies in your own time. ABC’s IView is an excellent example. It’s free to download and often has content available before it is shown on regular TV.

Apple TVs, Chromecasts and other set top boxes provide cheap and varied entertainment. There are also movie streaming companies like Quickflix, and Telstra and Optus both have their own movie streaming services.

Please, take the time to talk to your children about the possible dangers and moral issues involved in illegally downloading content from the Internet. And don’t tell me what happens at the start of Season 5 Game of Thrones!

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