14 August 2017

From the Head of Senior School

Earlier this year at the Year 9 Parent - House Head Dinner, I presented the scenario of a student experiencing ongoing disruption to his learning by the student sitting next to him. This boy was being interrupted every two minutes and wasn't being allowed to think deeply about the concepts being developed. I stated that I was sure a concerned parent would contact the class teacher or House Head to share their concern about the impact on their child's learning. I then asked the questions. Why do we consider it okay? Why do we tolerate it when the disruption is caused by communications through a mobile phone? The support from the ensuing discussions supplied me with the confidence to follow through with the refining of our Mobile Phone Policy. Dr O'Connell wrote to all families outlining the rationale and changes before term break. Our updated policy does not ban the use of mobile phones as a learning tool. It asks the boys to put the device aside, preferably storing it in their locker, during the day to allow them to concentrate on their learning. They do, of course, have their laptop with them in the vast majority of classes. Make no mistake the distraction caused by mobile phones detracts from learning and the myth that students today can multi-task is just that; a myth. They simply share their concentration and effort across multiple tasks. One could argue that laptops offer a similar challenge. Our monitoring tools and filtering supply us with a level of assurance that the devices are being used for their intended purpose. We do, of course, rely on the boys to make good choices and have conversations when they are not.

As adults, we are aware of the challenge in ignoring alerts that come with social media. Adolescents developmentally lack this control. Snapchat groups and comments or images posted by one member invite distraction and responses from multiple members; interrupting multiple students. It also sets a scenario where students feel pressure to respond, seeing extended conversations about nothing of great significance.

I recently listened to a podcast involving a conversation between host, Sam Harris, and his guest Tristan Harris (no relation). Tristan is a systems engineer who most recently had worked with Google. Tristan's training involved working with a group called the Persuasive Technologies Lab. This group is solely designed to develop persuasive technologies which capture the attention of users and works towards maximising the time spent by users on the apps they develop. Apps mentioned by Tristan in the podcast include Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube. Tristan discussed how these apps are devised to capture our attention and ensure we find it difficult to leave them. They are specifically designed to reinforce gratification in the moment; another characteristic of adolescence. Facebook received a specific mention in this podcast, as well as in others, for its effect on well-being. The concern raised was the effect caused to wellbeing through the ongoing and constant comparison between an individual and the perfect lives being depicted on Facebook.

The opportunities and challenges of the online world and 24/7 connection are many and varied. Many opportunities present themselves with Information and Learning Technologies. We do want students to make the most of these opportunities and our changes to the Mobile Phone Policy hope to show the boys how the technologies can be used productively, giving the technology a context and educating them for life.

Mr Dean Shadgett
Head of Senior School