Classroom Perspectives

Teaching the Teacher: Digital

Teaching the Teacher: Digital

By Cameron Conaway

Many of us stay connected with friends on Facebook and stay updated with the news by what’s trending on Twitter (and some of us even know how to hyperlink!). Today’s students are growing up with gadgets no larger than a matchbox that can take high-definition pictures. They have constant access to social media while we did not. Even I, a young teacher who grew up with Nintendo and Playstation, often defer to my students when I simply can’t understand something in our digital world. A golfer who grabs clubs and starts to play at age thirty will never be as good as Tiger Woods who had professionally guided practices from the age of two. Same goes for language. The young brain is more receptive, more “moist” to learning language. It’s much easier to absorb ideas at this primal level than when we are set in our ways and need to rely purely on hard work. The same will be said for the digital age. Intuition and instinct are tapped into when we learn early on. But this does not mean our ability to learn from the young should cease.

As a consequence of this digital age, something personal, conversational and face-to-face may be lost. Youth may grow up and struggle with social cues or have less empathy for fellow humans. Time will tell. But the point is, they retain a body of knowledge that is, at times, completely foreign to adults and probably, more informed. It is a good thing because youth are more than happy to share knowledge when given the chance.

I’ve worked with teachers and taught at schools with strict policies regarding technology—they’ll have none of it. Students are required to raise their hands (not use the electronic clicker). The teachers prefer chalkboards over magicboards. The first time a student is caught with a cell phone, they receive a warning. The second time results in suspension. Strict rules generate thoughts of breaking rules. Actions are influenced by thoughts. Breaking rules is connected to social conventions—from school dress codes to religious dogma, from dieting to, you guessed it, banning the digital.

To ban a drug is one thing. To ban a platform that students are going to use (and need) as they mature is to shortchange their education and usher them into a world for which they are not prepared. Supporters of the ban may argue students have many hours outside of school to create video content, crop pictures, or build a web page. Regardless, when using these tools in school, students will see the inherent value. As we help prepare them for a life and a career in the 21st century, students will, in turn, help educate teachers by adding to our knowledge and understanding of digital technology.

One way to maintain tradition yet incorporate the modern is to have one “Digital Day” each week. Place students into teams, give them an assignment where they make a presentation exploring a technology-based topic. It can be on anything you and the student team agree is appropriate and relevant. Did you know about Gmail Motion? Yes, it was Google’s April Fool’s joke. But the reason it fooled most people is because this type of streamlined, interactive technology is no longer hard to imagine. It’s going to come. This means it’s time to let your students be your guide.

What are your thoughts on using technology in the classroom? What struggles have you encountered? What successes?

Cameron Conaway was an instructor for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona’s MFA Creative Writing Program. The residency allowed him to spend two years teaching in diverse environments throughout Arizona – from the Tohono O’odham Native American Reservation to lower income high schools, from University Honors classes to juvenile detention centers. His book, Until You Make the Shore (Jan 2012, Salmon Poetry) grew out of his experiences teaching inside the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center in Tucson, Arizona. He is currently studying Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand thanks to the sponsorship of To ask Cameron questions or to join his team, connect with him via social media at

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