Why teachers and principals should be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

If you are a student heading back to class in September, should personal electronic devices like iPads, tablets or a smartphone be on your list of must haves? And what happens to students whose parents can't afford expensive technology? CBC tech columnist Jesse Hirsh weighs in.

Will technology build a better student? That depends on the teacher: Jesse Hirsh

CBC technology expert Jesse Hirsh explains why teachers should be on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you are a student heading back to class in September should personal electronic devices like iPads, tablets or a smartphone be on your list of must haves? Does technology in the classroom build better students? What happens to students whose parents can't afford expensive technology?

CBC tech columnist Jesse Hirsh is just the right person to answer these questions and more. He's heading back to graduate school in the fall.

Here's an edited and abridged transcript of his interview with the CBC's Conrad Collaco. Read the transcript here or listen to the full audio interview by clicking the image at the top of this page.

Jesse Hirsh: CBC's technology columnist

Q: If you are a student heading back to class ready to start the school year in September, what piece of technology do you want by your side?

Smartphone. Without a doubt. My number one reason is mobility. It wouldn't take up much room in my knapsack. It would allow me to access the world's knowledge at my fingertips. It would keep me in close proximity with my friends and family. It would allow me to take notes and store those notes and Tweet those notes to my friends.

As an aside I'm going back to graduate school this fall. I'm thinking, what tools do I need to learn and be the best student I can be. So, I think it's the smart phone rather than the laptop. It's small and allows me to focus on the teacher when I need to and look something up when I need to.

Q: Will the smartphone build a better student?

It depends on the teacher. Some embrace technology. Others are more skeptical. It depends on how the teacher modifies the curriculum and teaching style. When we went to school the teacher had a monopoly on knowledge. They were the authority in the class because they were the subject matter experts. That is no longer the case. The smart phone allows the student to access all the world's knowledge. The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage. The teacher is now a facilitator. It now becomes a bottom up process.

They are helping the student decipher which information is relevant. They teach the student to be critical because you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. It changes the process to one that emphasizes self-directed learning. The student can, in theory, do a whole lot more in the school day; absorb more knowledge and produce more results of that knowledge. It comes down to whether the teacher resents the role of technology or the device or whether they are helping the student use it responsibly.

Q: The new technology can be very expensive. That means some parents can afford the very best while others can afford nothing at all. Won't technology in the classroom give wealthier students an even greater advantage?

Absolutely. I think the digital divide is a pressing social issue, even more so when it comes to education. One assumption schools make is that the majority of technology education happens outside of class. There's some logic to that. A toddler can figure out how to use an iPad within seconds. The question is whether they have access to that iPad in the first place. The other problem is the technology industry. The industry, both out of greed and necessity, creates devices that are not designed to last.

You can't ask a school to use old devices because those old devices won't connect to the world at large. Affordability and accessibility are huge issues when it comes to technology in the class. Schools try to create a level playing field by supplying kids with tablets. For example the Los Angeles County School Board famously gave supplied all kids with iPads. After a year they sent them all back because they were broken. They weren't durable. There isn't a solution but there is a need that could be addressed by creating a better relationship between the community and the school. If schools were community resources it would be easier to acquire and recycle technology. Kids could sign out iPads and laptops they could take home. 

The digital divide is a problem that goes beyond schools that needs to be closed not just with social policies but with the technology industry making sure their products are affordable.

Q: How will personal electronic devices affect student safety?

To each child we have given a microphone and told them that now you can speak to the world. But we don't teach them how to use it responsibly, whether it's cyber bullying or personal information on a privacy level that could get kids in harms way they have more access to media than any generation ever and yet we're not giving them the responsibilities. Teachers should be on Twitter. Principals should be on Facebook so they can show students how to use these tools responsibly. They should be on Snapchat and on Instagram to show kids the proper way to use the platforms. Right now we are giving them private but powerful social spaces that can put them in harm's way.