From education to employment

Understanding the new digital etiquette

Theorist and philosopher Marshal McLuhan once stated that “we shape our technologies and thereafter our tools shape us.” Indeed, the rapid rise of digital technologies is changing our daily lives in more ways than we could ever have imagined.

A proliferation of social media channels means that we are constantly ‘switched on’, checking for alerts, status updates and messages. This is perhaps truest for today’s teenagers; the so called ‘born digital’ generation.

According to latest figures from Ofcom 90% of 16-24 year olds own a smartphone and typically spend more than 27 hours a week online. Time spent online has almost tripled in 10 years – from 10 hours, 24 minutes a week in 2005 to 27 hours, 36 minutes in 2014.

For educators this technological shift means that we have a new role to play – helping young people make the most of technology while understanding and abiding by a new digital etiquette.

There has been a great deal of debate in the education sector in recent months about the role of technology in the classroom.

At UTC Reading, one of our specialisms is computer science and I believe that we must reflect that not only in what we teach but in the way we teach.

While some schools may impose a ban on using phones in classrooms, we encourage responsible use. For example a student may use their phone to take a picture of the board so that they can capture and reflect on what they have just learned. They might also use their mobile device to look up something that triggers their imagination, rather than wait until the lesson has ended.

These things are commonplace in industry and if we are to prepare our young people for successful careers, technology has a vital role to play.

We want to help our students make best use of digital resources and we do this by providing them with recommendations around digital etiquette. This is meant as a helpful guide that will serve them well during their time in education as well as in the workplace. Such etiquette includes things like increasing awareness of their digital footprint, being careful about giving out personal information online and also being able to switch devices off and talk to people.
As technology permeates all aspects of modern life we have to acknowledge that teachers are no longer the sole providers of information. Instead they become facilitators who can help pupils to sift and sort the wealth of resources available online to find the most helpful and pertinent.

In doing so we need to help young people develop their independent thinking and learning skills, empower them to make good decisions about their online activity and find a healthy online/offline balance that will also enable them to develop important social skills.

Before we rush into judging technology as being an unhelpful distraction, we should consider its educational merits and explore the best ways of integrating it into how we teach and learn. That might mean navigating a new digital etiquette for teachers as well as for students.

If we are to prepare students for successful futures they will need to master the technical as well as soft skills associated with digital technology. That means having opportunities to practice responsible use and developing an appropriate digital footprint that will make them attractive to future educators and employers. This is the only route to realising the potential of our born digital generation.

Joanne Harper is principal of UTC Reading

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