Deputy Head's Blog: The iGen Generation

There can be no escaping the impact that Information and Communication Technology has had on education over the past twenty years. When faced with a steam-rolling technology, you either become part of the technology or part of the road!

Pretty much everything that I need for teaching is on the Cransley School Network - lesson plans, resources, photographs etc. Pupils can follow instructions as to what they need to do and detailed lesson plans are available to teachers as well as a variety of hyperlinked resources.

Today’s children, the ‘Digital Natives’, enjoy and flourish in an information landscape that would have been unimaginable when most of us were in school, and it dwarfs, by comparison. the experiences they have in their classrooms.  Their information experience puts them in control, gives them information that becomes a raw material for new information experiences.  It connects them to wings instead of anchors.

The perfect classroom would be more like a global trolley car, in which pupils can visit places all over the world and visit any time that has been sufficiently documented.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Isn’t it?

And yet…….

This past week saw me engaged in an ISI Inspection of a Boarding School in the South of the country. The week before the Inspection team arrived, the Headmaster of the School, in conjunction with his Senior Management Team, took the bold (and extremely brave) decision to implement a blanket ban on mobile phones for pupils in the equivalent Cransley School years of Senior 3 and Senior 4.

This decision was taken in an attempt to wean off the pupils from the constant pressure to be using their mobile phones and to engage in more effective channels of communication – talking to each other!

Naturally, (on the face of it), the pupils were collectively up in arms. Parents, however were 100% behind this decision and, removed from any peer pressure, individual pupils reported back to Staff a sense of relief that supported such a decision.

Interestingly, each pupil at the School possessed a School iPad that I witnessed being put to excellent use in the lessons that I visited. The School valued technology as an educational tool (demonstrating an excellent example of using Google Classroom/Docs) but were striving to achieve for their pupils a healthy lifestyle balance to eradicate any threat of ‘screen addiction!

This most interesting decision prompted a personal reflection of the impact that technology has had on the lives of our young children. The timing was appropriate, given that our English syllabus for Senior 2 is currently focusing on Technology!

I am an ICT ‘specialist’ with a particular interest in the benefits of technology on teaching and learning. So where did my personal reflection lead me?

Professor Twenge is a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University who has been researching generational differences for the past 25 years, using annual surveys of over 11 million young people in the United States. She has discovered a significant shift between the previous cohort of young people – the millennials and the current cohort – who she refers to as the ‘iGen Generation’. Her findings are interesting!

Professor Twenge identified sudden spikes in depressive symptoms with associated sudden changes in how young people were spending their time, with a significant shift in attitude relating to risk and safety.

iGen teens spend six to eight hours each day engaging in digital media that has impacted upon the time that they spend seeing their friends in person, as well as the time they used to spend with traditional media, including reading books, magazines and newspapers.

The iGen teens are obsessed with safety and less interested in taking risks, with the resulting impact being that they are taking longer to grow up! Teachers in America have shared their concerns with Professor Twenge that this new kind of upbringing has made it difficult for pupils to work independently, to make their own decisions or attempt a task without receiving step-by-step instructions.

Professor Twenge is of the opinion that smartphones should at least be banned in Schools during lunchtimes, as this should be a time for pupils to interact with each other. Pupils shared their frustrations that they very often wanted to talk to their friends at lunchtime but could not do so because their friends were always on their phones!

Sally Payne, Head Paediatric Occupational Therapist at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust has expressed concerns that children are using tablets and phones so much that their fingers lack the strength to hold a pencil properly!

A cyberbullying inquiry led by Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham and the charities The Children’s Society and Young Minds (bit.ly/children444) revealed that half of young people have been targeted with abusive or threatening messages online.

It would appear that Social Networks are failing to tackle the worrying trend of cyberbullying.

So what can governments, parents and schools do? It is difficult to see an easy solution, but remember that ten years ago, most of these sites and apps did not exist. If we lived with them before, we can certainly live without them again. It would be wise for Social Networks to remember this and that they took steps to fix these problems, before we abandon their sites!

I am pleased that Cransley School has a policy (Senior 5 apart) of handing in mobile phones at the beginning of each day – a significant contribution to maintaining a healthy digital and social balance – as well as allowing opportunities for hand strength and dexterity that will allow our pupils to hold a pencil properly!