Put Down That Tablet

Tablets and smart phones. Ah, the fresh wave of innovative products we just have to have. With the introduction of the iPad last year, Apple kicked off a new decade of technology, already lush with smart phones, 3-D televisions and controller-less game consoles.

Now we can look forward to even more variations of a tablet that seemed so elusive just a few years ago. Without a doubt, we are using technology nearly every waking minute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technological inventions and I sincerely look forward to what will come out of the numerous companies competing in the tablet market.

But where do we finally draw the line? More people, namely experts in the field of digital media culture, are proposing that technology be incorporated into elementary, middle and high school classrooms.

While they pose good arguments – kids are secretly using their cell phones during class anyways – they haven’t considered the following: once kids are given the green light to openly use their smart phones and tablets, how will we make them stop?
In the Huffington Post, Craig Watkins writes that the “insertion of technology into the classroom might help break the ice that chills the relationship between students and teachers.”

On paper, this might work. Allowing kids to interact with their teachers and each other using a mobile application can encourage them to participate and engage more during class. Teachers will no longer be seen as strict and technologically deficient, and students will no longer be viewed as resistant and detached. Rather than policing cell phone use, teachers can then focus their energy and resources on using technological devices as a learning tool.

However, this could only work in practice if children completely respect their teachers and actually do what they are told to do. Can they really put away their phones when they are instructed? Most likely, teachers will face an even bigger problem; that is, now they will also have to direct their attention to getting the kids to turn their technology off, which, quite frankly, is one of the hardest things to accomplish.

Besides, how can teachers regulate what their students are really doing? They could simply be playing a game with their friends and still not paying attention.

Even if the Internet is limited to them, such as Facebook and other popular social networking sites are now, kids have always found a way around the restrictions. Specific links are dedicated to manipulating the system and granting access to these supposedly restricted sites.

Even I was guilty of that a few times during my senior year in high school, and that was at the end of the year, when my teacher encouraged us to bring in our laptops and camcorders for some rather pointless project. Which only goes to prove my point even further – when given the opportunity, kids will pick any viable source of distraction as opposed to actually paying attention to the teacher.

I can’t help but think what’s next if this is the route the next generation will be on. Teachers would communicate solely through new applications, and there will inevitably be a plethora of those should this become a reality. Is this the type of cooperation we really want – one that is accomplished solely through the assistance of a computerized device?

It’s bad enough that many of us already prefer texting and chatting online to face-to-face interaction. Now these kids will only know their friends and teachers through the limits of cyberspace.

If we can’t draw that line and technology is eventually incorporated into every exercise and assignment a pre-college student completes, we have essentially eliminated the need for a teacher. Beneath the solution that these digital media experts are suggesting lies the unintentional consequence that teachers will be forced to take a back seat to technology.

Giving in to a child’s temptation is like feeding a monster. Children naturally push boundaries until they get exactly what they want. Yes, it’s the same for me and, I assume, many graduate students and adults alike. It’s like opening that box of chocolates you’ve been craving – once you start, you just can’t stop.

But the difference is that, fundamentally, our learning habits have already been grounded within our minds. At the end of the day, we know exactly when that gruesome research paper, worth a good chunk of our grade, is due and that our professors will not tolerate any late papers, regardless of any brilliantly made-up excuse.

These kids, on the other hand, have not. And, if cell phones are allowed in classrooms, every minute they spend awake will involve the Internet and they will never learn what it’s like to use their own brains without Google at their fingertips.

Technological devices, smart phone applications and whatever the world comes up with next can definitely be useful supplements for teachers to impose. However, just like there are now “smart snacking” packages and 100-calorie packs to satisfy our sweet tooth while limiting our sugar intake, there must be a method with no loopholes to help teachers control what kids are doing on their phones during class. Until we successfully implement a way to efficiently use technology as a complement to teachers, cell phones and tablets in the classrooms must be restricted.

Karen Zhou is a third-year business administration major. She can be reached at kzhou@uci.edu.