“Sir’s had a haircut!”
“I’m on the board. lol”
These are all responses I’ve had on my screen when using Padlet and Socrative with students. If you’re not familiar with either tool, they allow students to contribute a post that can instantly be collated and displayed on an interactive whiteboard. Moreover, these were all posts that I’ve had from classes who I, and others, have seen demonstrate ‘outstanding behaviour’ on numerous occasions.
When I’ve used Google Docs and Slides to allow students to collaborate some have enjoyed writing silly comments on the work of their peers. When I examine any class set of iPads around the school, I see evidence that the nicest students in the world have taken selfies of themselves during lessons!
Now, the purpose of this post is not to scare you away from using technology. Given the mission of the blog, I assure you that my intentions are quite the opposite! What I’m interested in is understanding why technology elicits these immature responses from the nicest of students. More importantly, I want to know how we make staff feel confident that technology will improve learning, and not just destroy carefully planned lessons.
What causes the problem?
For me, the problem comes down to two things: boundaries and opportunities.
So many schools have a blanket ban on mobile devices and that confuses students when they use similar devices in education. They do not understand how to use these devices responsibly, because they don’t have to in their everyday lives! Mobile devices, in the minds of most students, are devices that they use to socialise, share and have fun with. This is why when we use iPads in education, or mobile devices in the classroom, some students will still use them irresponsibly.
Secondly, the devices offer a great opportunity to mess around. For some students this is hard to resist. I was a total “goodie two shoes” in school. I rarely got into trouble. I enjoyed most of my subjects. I wanted to do well. Yet the second we moved into a computer room for my Business Studies lessons I became a demon. I created a small tool that let me bypass network restrictions to send messages to other computers and to my friends in another classroom. I gave it to my friends so that we could chat between classrooms. Was I wrong? Of course I was! But I had the opportunity to do something new, to mess around, and to get a little creative. I really struggled to resist this opportunity. Put bluntly, I was a kid!
So how do we ensure good behaviour for learning with technology?
But this does not mean that we can’t find solutions to ensure that students use technology responsibly. When we find ways to do this we can reap all of the benefits of using educational technology to enhance teaching and learning.
1. You must establish boundaries
Above all, like anything else that you do in teaching, you must establish clear expectations and boundaries. 99% of the time I have been able to ensure good behaviour with collaborative tools by outlining exactly how I expect students to use them and what actions are inappropriate.
You would be surprised how effective it is to say “you must only stay on your group’s document” when using Google Apps for Education to collaborate. Or “I’m only interested in sensible answers here!” when asking students to write to the board using Socrative or Padlet. If students know what misbehaviour you are looking out for, and what you expect them to do, they are less likely to mess around.
2. Have clear sanctions
Like anything, having a clear sanction for misusing devices can be useful. In my classroom, if anyone messes around with iPads they are responsible for plugging them in to charge at break time.
3. Use humour…appropriately
Sometimes, students will genuinely post something funny to Socrative. If 29 students have written sensible answers and there’s one stupid but funny comment you can make fun of it, or explain why it doesn’t meet the demands of your question. Students find this amusing.
But you need to know the line, if it’s totally inappropriate click ‘remove’ and feel free to have a good shout at the offending student!
4. Get someone in to watch.
The first time, or the first few times, that you use a piece of technology make sure that you have a curious colleague in to informally observe you. I did this when I started to use padlet in source analysis. When students realise that someone is there to observe good practice they tend not to misuse new and unfamiliar technology. Then, if students have used a tool sensibly and it worked well, they are far less likely to muck around when you use it on your own.
5. Get students used to the devices
This isn’t a given for good behaviour, but if you want to use iPads in education, or any mobile device, you need students to get used to using it. Once they’ve used devices on a good number of occasions then students will tend to use the devices more sensibly. However, like anything in teaching, this only works if you are persistent and establish clear boundaries.
6. Have useful settings and technical procedures, but don’t rely on them.
If all else fails have a technical procedure to limit students using devices inappropriately. From a technical perspective, this could involve terminating ‘Reflector’ on your computer so that students can’t AirPlay to the interactive whiteboard when it is inappropriate. Or, it could involve limiting the number of apps that you install on iPads or devices in the classroom. Although technical restrictions help, they won’t stop a student who is out to misbehave! So never rely on just this!
Never let the risk of misbehaviour stop you using iPads in education, or any technology in your classroom. The risk of student misbehaviour puts a lot of teachers off using technology and mobile devices in lessons, but this is something that is easy to control and that can really allow you to demonstrate your mastery of a class. If you can trust your students to use technology responsibly, you can trust them to do almost anything!by