The Educational Texting Epidemic

Like it or not, texting has become such a socially accepted form of communication that the mobile technology revolution now assures that it isn’t going away anytime soon.  In fact, after the recent online-boom of the last five years where social networking sites like Twitter have taken off like flies before the swatter, the human brain itself is beginning to crave smaller increments of information. Technology is changing the way we think.

First, we saw the nasty consequences of the texting epidemic for drivers that led to fatalities and eventually laws being passed in certain states like WA against it. The Federal government has stepped in and is now fully cracking down on what has been coined, “distracted driving.”

Then texting began to become a major disruption within both the real and virtual education worlds. The kicker is that while the more traditional education system can simply take away gadgetry before class begins, in a digital setting it’s much more difficult, and tutors are guilty as well!

The topic is becoming a flash point of heated debate, especially when it comes to the general education levels of the most technologically inundated generations in human history. Here is a really powerful quote from an article on the Huffington Post titled, Texting, The Next Epidemic: Our National Well-Being Is In Jeopardy.

“The time we used to spend reading and writing has been replaced with technological communication — mainly text messaging. One learns to communicate — learns to think, write and speak with clarity — by reading and writing. It is absolutely crucial that we do not become so hooked on using the shortcuts and codes of texting that we fail to develop into accomplished thinkers, writers and speakers.”

Why Texting Negatively Impacts A Learning Environment

An article by Olivia B. Waxman claims that “77 percent of teenagers (12-17) have cell phones, and 75 percent of all teens text.” This means that the chances of students texting when the teacher can’t see them, is incredibly high.

Whether in person or through a computer screen, the focus of thought is a crucial aspect in absorbing information. It’s true that the online realm has made younger kids perfectly capable of thinking about multiple things at once, but casually pondering and learning are two different things.

It’s impossible to really get the point of a lecture if throughout the entire thing Johnny has been texting Margaret and chatting about their relationship status. They have to mentally disengage instruction every few seconds completely, and then return in increments. It doesn’t work. Johnny and Margaret might as well not have been present at all.

The same thing goes for tutors that are distracted with texting while trying to conduct a private course on mathematics. At the end of the day, it drastically reduces the quality of any learning environment.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

Texting and mobile technology isn’t going away, and the more people try to push against it, the harder the transition is going to be.

There are really only two options, either you try to beat the texting problem by attempting to erase it through zero tolerance policies, or you adapt, overcome, and use texting to the advantage of everyone involved – students and teachers/tutors alike. Here are a few options that could be used or built upon.

Experiment with Group Texting

There are online tools such as Celly, WeTxt, or Remind101 out there that allow group setting environments to be created and shared between students and teachers. This could be a way for tutors to keep their students updated on what’s going on, and give students a way of communicating in a group setting that they’re extremely comfortable with.

It can go beyond texting. Teachers can attach coursework, resources, short studying tips, or other news to their texts. Likewise, students can send teachers their homework, ask questions, and give feedback.

Anonymous Texting Discussions

Why not hook up the class room computer, projector, and a text display. In fact, the teacher could project it behind the class where they can’t readily see it, and give the students free reign to ask questions via text. Once the instructor gets used to it, this could be a very time efficient tool. Students could share things with the teacher that they perhaps would otherwise be too shy to announce verbally.

Text-Based In-Class Polling

Both Socrative and PollEverywhere are applications that tutors and teachers can use to create polls or even quizzes that allow students to submit answers directly, which can then be displayed in seconds. Online tutors can use this medium to ask their students pertinent questions.

Admittedly, it may sound oversimplified to think we can make lemonade from lemons by using texting to our advantage.  However, rather than trying to fight the distractions, there are worse things than incorporating them into the learning environment and making the technology work for it instead of against it.

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