Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You've Got Text

Remember that movie, You’ve Got Mail!, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan who get connected via email? E-mail has become a natural way of communication. We can easily send messages to many people and communicate to them our concerns, questions, or comments on whatever topic interests us. Have you ever thought of how adults use email vs. students? Is email losing its ability to be an avenue for communication? Is it more about using cell phones and text messaging? Or, what about smart phones and the ability to video chat with others through software? I know that my own children would rather text than send an email. They get immediate feedback from a text message vs. an email that may take days to get a response.

There are many positive ways to use cell phones in the classroom. But, as we think about using them for education, we must consider their relevance for the curriculum. In order to be effective, there has to be an outcome. Cell phones can be engaging and fun if used effectively. And, we can use that time to teach appropriate uses of the technology.

There are also ways in which students use cell phones negatively. Students are using cell phones to bully other students. They do this by sending obscene texts or obscene photos to other students they may not like. They also use their social networks to take more “jabs” at each other. As parents, teachers, and administrators, we need to watch out for this kind of behavior. The bully is no longer the big kid on the playground. There have been several recent stories relating to this very issue. Ones that really disturb me are adolescents who end up taking their own lives. One example is the story of a 13-old girl in Florida who committed suicide after an explicit cell phone photo she had texted to a boy was forwarded to several other students. You can read the full version of this story at

Each year, the Nebraska ESU’s sponsor a contest for “Internet Safety.” The contest is sponsored by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and concludes in April. Our goal is to get the word out and help students understand the “risk” of rude behavior online. There are numerous organizational web sites whose goal is to help students understand these risks. In fact, Anderson Cooper has interviewed students regarding the very issue of Cyberbullying. You can see the episodes on AC360˚. One of his episodes is titled, “In a Wired World, Children Unable to Escape Cyberbullying.”

I believe we (parents, teachers, administrators) have a responsibility to teach appropriate uses of these technologies - cell phones, online social networks, and Internet behavior. It can be effectively integrated into our curriculum if done appropriately. Many futurists predict that every student will have a digital device (a phone) to carry with them to school in five years. Are we prepared for this as educators? Instead of “You’ve got mail”, perhaps we should start saying, “You've Got Text!”