Technology in education is a hotly debated issue, with experts, parents, teachers, and students weighing in every day. But less frequently discussed is how technology’s design can impact students and influence their behavior.
Pamela Pavliscak, a professor at New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute of design and expert on technology design and human behaviour, frequently speaks with kids and teens to learn about their relationship with technology and its impact on their lives. In her recent Quartz piece, There’s a better way to treat your tech addiction than hiding your phone and laptop, she sheds light on how it’s more important for us to learn how to live connected, rather than to simply disconnect.
In this article we explore how we can harness technology to make better decisions around our relationship with it, and how educators can help.
1. Encourage More Meaningful Use Of Time
Pavliscak shares that time is too often wrongfully split into on and offline components, where more time spent online is viewed as wasted, and offline as intrinsically better. “I’d advocate thinking more about meaning than time,” Pavliscak says. She argues that, as technology extends beyond smartphones and laptops, moving into our surrounding environments and even our bodies, it will become more difficult to split our time into on or offline “buckets”.
Instead, Pavliscak points to spending time in ways that support our core human values, like strengthening relationships, building a community, showing care, gaining knowledge and mastery, and knowing yourself. “These values underpin well-being in any context,” she says, articulating that students should learn to spend their time more meaningfully, regardless of the method.
2. Encourage Active Participation Online
Pavliscak advocates for active participation in technology in order to build a positive relationship with it and with others. Passive consumption or posting on social media in exchange for likes, for example, will not positively contribute to a strong relationship; deep conversation, she argues, whether on or offline, will. “Emotional well-being in relationships is conversationally deep, and whether that depth is sustained in person or online matters less.”
Pavliscak recommends actively participating in the give and take of the online world, rather than passively scrolling or posting on social media. “For kids, the boundary between tech and self is even more fluid,” she says, which is why it’s important for educators to make room for and encourage such deep conversations to happen online.
3. Give Students Opportunities to Make an Impact
“Kids long to make more of an impact in their school, their community, and the world,” Pavliscak says. A typical sentiment of Generation Z, she emphasizes, making an impact is often more important and valuable to them than grades or badges offered by gamified education apps. She argues that incentives only go so far, and technologies designed with only a “destination” in mind — like points or rewards — don't always feel engaging for students.
Instead, encouraging students to use technology or games that will contribute to a real-life context or provide a real-world impact will bring students greater value.
4. Promote Creation, Not Consumption
Technology used in the classroom should be for cultivating creativity, rather than passive consumption. “Creativity comes down to participating as if your participation matters,” Pavliscak says, emphasizing that worksheets, online quizzes, and even highly structured assignments may be active, but they don’t always feel creative for students.
Instead, students should be involved in creating something “real” — something that other students can use, “remixing” one thing to create something new, or even leaving room for open interpretation.
Pavliscak also recommends that educators acknowledge and encourage different types of reading — deep, immersive reading, reading as writing (like commenting and highlighting), and reading as conversation, too. Trying different strategies helps breed a type of creativity that might get lost in a more passive environment.
5. Help Students Become More Intentional With Technology
“For better or worse, our activities online are tracked and sold and shared,” Pavliscak says. In other words, technology designers use our behaviour and the data they collect to make design decisions, and these decisions can have a significant impact on our lives in many different ways.
If we were more intentional about what we chose to click on, designers would take note. Pavliscak suggests that we, as individuals, hold the power to change where technology is headed, how it’s designed, and whether it supports the core human values mentioned above. “Imagine if we started to pay less attention to the soul-sucking aspects of technology, like the needless notifications and the clickbait headlines?" Indeed, there would be less of it.
If we are more intentional about how we engage with technology and how meaningful our engagement is, technology will change for the better. Educators that acknowledge this can help align these values and the behaviours that will influence such positive change.
Pamela often speaks on creativity in the digital age, generation Z, and emotion and technology, recently at SXSW and Collision. She is the author of the O'Reilly e-book Data Informed Product Design, the forthcoming Designing for Happiness. Follow Pamela on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.