Information overload? Let the kids decide.

In a recent post (Information Overload: Do Kids Manage Their Media Better?) on the Shaping Youth blog (about media and marketing influence on kids), executive director Amy Jussel discusses the difference between how adults and children handle information overload.

She quotes Marketing strategist Steve Rubel in an Ad Age article (unfortunately you have to be a subscriber to view this one) –

“In-boxes, smart phones and IM windows are overflowing. Always-on connections, mobile devices and new publishing tools have expanded the media we consume to include content from peers…New networks and platforms for participation are sprouting up and going supernova overnight, with no end in sight.”

Teachers looking at Web 2.0 and other technologies are well aware of this feeling of drinking from the firehose. The textbook is not the final word on any subject anymore (if it ever really was), you search for “lesson plans” on Google and get a number best expressed in scientific notation, parents want you to respond to email AND voicemail (and neither one of them work), you are supposed to download videos and upload podcasts and oh, by the way, here are 10 new tools invented yesterday that may or may not help you.

How will we teach students to handle all of this if we are overwhelmed ourselves?

But she asks a great question –

What if we preventively look to YOUTH for some of these answers? Youth voraciously digest media and STILL somehow seem to exercise more restraint than “addicted” adults overly dependent on their mobile devices and gizmos.

Many kids are able to ingest their digital media nuggets as tasty morsels instead of the ‘portion distortion’ some adults gorge upon, tanking up with “too much of a good thing.”

In my house, for example, my tween gets enamored in fits and starts with media’s ‘Next Great Thing’ then, like a pup with a new toy, she plays with it for awhile, puts it down and goes back to her primary modus operandi.

Why does this matter for school?

It matters if adults let feelings of inadequacy color what we teach and how we treat students. Information is overwhelming…. programming is hard…. the web is a scary, dangerous place… these messages are about adult fears. Students hear these as confirmation that adults don’t “get it” and it becomes just one more reason to tune out.

Students could be doing so much more to help teachers understand how technology and information works in their lives (Previous post: Web 2.0 – share the adventure with students.) In turn, students would be more open to the very important lessons teachers can teach–like good searching, media literacy, safety and using the web for appropriate, educational purposes. If we don’t teach appropriate, educational uses of technology, it’s our own fault if students fill the vacuum with inappropriate, trivial use. But we shouldn’t color the lesson with fear.

4 Replies to “Information overload? Let the kids decide.”

  1. Speaking of technology, I just posted a long reply and had it deleted by accident since I didn’t SEE the pre-qual autobot addition deterrent, sigh.

    Essentially, I was saying that I totally AGREE w/your assessment of adult’s propensity to speak from a position of defense or fear. Like the adage, ‘never let ’em see you sweat’ it’s important that students don’t ‘smell fear’…As one who works w/both two-legged AND four-legged creatures, I can say it wholeheartedly applies to both species.

    At Shaping Youth, we try to approach things as less “teacher/student/talking head” and more “collaboratory” since technology is an area which we’re mutually learning from (and with) each other, particularly.

    We distill the info gleaned from parents, academics, pop culture, media messaging and the students and marketers themselves to discern what “sticks” in terms of learning methodology…

    Whether it’s learning gleaned from virtual worlds (see Shaping Youth’s posting on Teen Second Life/Global Kids Digital Initiative here: )

    OR: a melding of new media technology to help “stressed out students” in academic testing and performance via HeartMath (see article on Stanford’s SOS program w/Denise Clark Pope & student anxiety here:

    …there’s learning to be had on all sides of this equation.

    Thanks for opening up the dialogue…and for ‘getting it’ as kids would say. Best, Amy Jussel, Founder/Exec. Dir.
    (Using the power of media for positive change…)

  2. Sylvia,
    I often wondered about the tech overload in the classroom. I blogged about it here:

    “So what is the answer? I have met teachers that will say “it is just too much” when talking about technology, but I have also felt some of them say that to get out of learning something new. For some, I am sure, it is a legitimate gripe. It is just difficult for a staff developer to know which is which in a short period of training time.
    We have to, as technology educators, be aware of the customers. I remember the Far Side comic where the kid with the little tiny head raises his hand and tells the teacher that his brain is full. That, I am sure, is how many of our teachers feel about technology, because, as I have said before, they do not see technology as a tool to help them and their students. And that is our fault as educational technologist; we have failed to sell properly.
    As with most things in life, somewhere there is a happy median. We cannot ignore technology of course, but on the other hand we cannot just vomit it out in hopes that it will be used. We have to develop proper training, show the benefits, and, bit the bullet and de-adopt technologies when they turn out to be either not useful or not having intended consequences.”


  3. I agree with you, we have to have more compelling models of technology use. We fawn over things simply because they are new, or are such minor examples of progress. No wonder teachers look at it and just roll their eyes. There is no other job where people can choose to opt out of the modern world, but most jobs have technology that works a lot better than it does in schools.

    There are so many variables, it’s hard to count them all.

    But one thing I hear quite a bit is saying things like, “We have to give teachers opportunities to practice tech skills outside the classroom.” I know that you don’t want to be a complete idiot in front of the kids, but I think that attitude sends a subtle message that technology is a trap waiting to happen to luckless teachers, that taking risks and trying new things is embarrassing, and that worst of all, there is something very hard about technology. There’s a false complexity to having days and days of powerpoint training. It creates more fear than learning and that transfers to the classroom.

  4. Hey Sylvia,

    As a classroom teacher and as someone who is responsible (to a degree) for professional development (both formal F2F sessions as well as individual mentoring) I see this from both sides.

    In my district, I am the person who helps make technology happen for many of my fellow classroom teachers, by way of the lessons I design and deliver in my class (a lab) when the teachers arrive with their kids.

    At our very best, we take material they are covering in class and whip up some wicked awesome activity that imparts technology skill while it reinforces content knowledge, the Holy Grail for people in my line of work. So, it’s my job to an extent to help identify these tools and how they can be used in education, design the lesson with input from the classroom teacher, then watch the kids knock it out of the park when they come into my lab.

    That’s when it works well.

    Of all the angles I could choose to respond to the “when it doesn’t work well” issue, I will touch upon something we shared over dinner at NECC, and that is intrinsic motivation of teachers when it comes to the role of technology in creative, engaging lesson delivery. Yes, it’s the locus of control thing.

    Teachers are human beings. We are naturally inclined to follow the path of least resistance. Well, most people are. I, for some reason, appear genetically prevented from doing so…

    So here’s the thing: Teacher A has a great lesson that has worked for them for years, they’ve refined it, know its going to hit the mark and the kids will be able to demonstrate transfer … so … why revamp it with technology? What’s the point? What’s the benefit?

    When you inject a teacher into this equation who, for whatever reason, is either tech-savvy or tech-friendly, they are more likely to gravitate to the “let’s try this lesson, that I have mastered, in a new way with technology.” At the end of the day, it’s all about change, and change comes from within (internal locus of control) or from above (expectations set [and ideally modeled] by district leadership).

    So unless people have some inner motivation to explore a new technology to transform their teaching, and/or have made a personal commitment to doing so, and/or have a district leadership that makes expectations clear (about effective instruction, not necessarily effective use of technology), teachers are going to do what they have always done. It’s human nature.

    My role is to find the people who have expressed interest in “doing things differently” and then to show them the tools out there and help craft a lesson or two that truly does empower the kids … lets them decide … but at the end of the day, it’s just perceived as SO much extra work for these folks … no amount of cajoling, support, or sharing will matter. They have got to WANT to do it.

    Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because s/he wants to do it.”

    So at the end of the day, it’s all about … leadership!

    Phew! Sorry for the rant! 🙂

    Happy 4th!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.