5 tips for high-tech teachers and educators

 
Educators play a vital role in helping kids realize the full potential of technology. Here are five helpful tips for using tech tools in and out of the classroom.

By Scott Steinberg

Author

Parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the creator of the The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of popular video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. Scott is hailed as a top voice for today’s high-tech generation by dozens of publications from USA Today to Forbes and NPR. A proud parent and working professional, he claims he'll sleep when they start giving away a free lifetime supply of anxiety medication with each new child.

Technology and electronics are already topping children’s wish lists for 2013, and it’s gratifying to see this growing range of widely beneficial products. Teachers and education industry professionals play a vital role in helping kids get the most out of these tools and toys so they can realize the full potential of technology.

Integrating technology into children’s lives inevitably comes with ups and downs, and teachers and educators must commit to going along for the roller-coaster ride. Ready to help your students take the plunge? Here are five tips for high-tech educators to keep in mind.

  1. Connect on Neutral Territory – Meet children on common ground, and engage with them by going beyond simple instruction and advice. Let technology serve as a powerful starting point and shared activity to spark discussions and bring your classroom together. While bonding over high-tech devices and programs, otherwise reticent children may find themselves open to chatting about other subjects – and unknowingly learning from the exchange.
  2. Commit to Ongoing Education – Dozens of programs, apps and child-friendly Web browsers are available to kids, and they come with countless promises to help parents block questionable online content. But there’s no substitute for proactive teaching– inside or outside the classroom. Technology is a moving target, constantly evolving. As an educator, the only way to help pupils meet these new opportunities and challenges is by keeping tabs on and testing out new advancements. Ongoing research and hands-on trials are essential: You can’t teach the rules of the game if you don’t understand them yourself.
  3. Create and Enforce Class Rules – Help kids understand the difference between right and wrong by setting class rules. Everyone should agree to appropriate content, how it’s suitable to use high-tech devices and when access is permitted and prohibited at school. Limiting screen time is important too: While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than one to two hours daily, some educators and families offer more or less time as rewards or punishments. Note that kids should feel comfortable approaching you with questions concerning classroom rules and questionable content: open, honest discussion is paramount.
  4. Stay Positive – While a decade ago, frenzied parents and teachers focused on the potential danger of online predators, today’s reality is that most kids who interact online do so appropriately. It’s important to teach kids the positive applications of technology and virtues of Digital Citizenship – i.e. the ability to apply real-life morals and judgments to online activities. While issues such as cyberbullying, identity theft and cybercrime are real threats, we don’t want to scare kids. Rather, explain and reinforce appropriate behavior, and give them tools to react if they encounter negative situations or behaviors online.
  5. Be a Guide and Mentor – On the flip side, don’t teach kids that the world is all sunshine and rainbows: Make them aware of what they need to know to spot something fishy. Teach them about potential pitfalls, whether situations concern a piece of questionable content or unscrupulous individual. Ensure that they’re equipped with a basic awareness of shady characters, online scams and sources of erroneous facts and misinformation. Cultivate a healthy sense of skepticism without instilling a sense of fear or powerlessness, and – most importantly – let kids  learn to think for themselves, but they should also know that they can come to you when any issues emerge.