Developing Empowered Users of Technology

Developing Empowered Users of Technology

by Matt Broughton, Technology Learning Coach

The COVID pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on human behaviour as we sought different ways to stay safe while also maintaining the status quo. Much of our human behaviours shifted from offline to online; shopping, learning, working, meeting, and entertaining have all seen large booms online from the onset of the pandemic. We’ve also seen similar behavioural shifts by the young people in our lives; they have turned to technology for both learning and socializing as they continue to grow. 

At YIS, technology is integral to student learning, collaboration and facilitating the creation and sharing of knowledge. Each of our students from kindergarten to grade 12 is allocated a device to support their learning. As a school we value the contributions that technology offers to learning, while also preparing students for the changing complexities of a digital world, including the post-pandemic world. 

As technology usage grows and changes during the pandemic, we’ve worked to reshape our thinking around technology usage at YIS. This started with first redeveloping our vision for technology usage. Many schools and workplaces around the globe use Acceptable Use Policies to share expectations of and restrictions on how technology should be used within their network or with their devices. Often we’d write expectations like this:

The use of the school’s network and devices is a privilege, not a right, and inappropriate use will result in loss of those privileges.

While the underlying meaning of this expectation seems wise for a school, it is full of negative language that presents itself as only saying ‘no’ and what we can’t do with technology or related behavior we won’t accept. Instead, as we reshaped our thinking and redeveloped our vision, we realized our aim should be to empower our students to make appropriate decisions about their use of  technology. The result is a newly developed Empowered Use Policy (EUP): 

large card with 4 statements about using technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and positively

Although seemingly too simple, these four statements enable our students to utilize technology as a tool to support and extend their learning. The statements define who we are as digital citizens while providing us with structure and guidance as we live and learn with ever-evolving technologies. It doesn’t mean we won’t have accountable conversations with students when they encounter challenges with tech use, but instead we have a solid, positive framework to guide those conversations rather than a framework peppered with negative language. 

These statements are also unique in that the language is accessible by our youngest learners, our oldest learners and everyone in between. Our teachers have expertly unpacked these with their students to develop age-appropriate expectations that they co-constructed with students. 

Our Empowered Use Policy isn’t just a YIS vision, instead we strive to see it reach into the YIS community. Our EUP might not be hanging on your wall at home, but it can certainly help you form the discussions you have around technology usage with your children. 

To provide some inspiration in what technology usage at home might look like while using our EUP as a guide, check out these tangible takeaways from our recent Living with Laptops middle school parent workshop lead by Ms. Medeha Zahid, Mr. Adam Clark and me:

Involve Your Child - Discuss any decisions about how your relationship with technology will be as a family.

Participate - Don’t let screen time be alone time. Participate and interact with your child about what they are doing on-line. That will allow them to share with you what they enjoy and help you engage with them. Engage and don’t snoop.

Set-up Tech Free Times or Zones - Important activities such as family/social gatherings, mealtimes or even particular places in the house such as bedrooms should be completely screen-free. 

Lead by Example - Engage with the technology yourself so you can remain credible and model good behavior. 

Model Consent Related Practices - Before you post a picture or share a story about your kids on social media, think twice, get their permission if possible, and expect the same in return.

Discuss - Share concerns, ideas and approaches with other parents and us at school. None of us are alone with this. 

With your help, we can continue building our school community of empowered learners.