In my early days in education, a wise leader said to me, “The trends in education swing like a pendulum.” At the time we were focused on No Child Left Behind; now, almost twenty years later, we are focusing again on the needs of the whole child, but with a different perspective. In the 21st century, we understand the needs of the whole child include social-emotional learning, and we also know that technology is a ubiquitous, essential, and powerful part of education. So we must ask ourselves this necessary question: How can SEL and edtech work together to benefit students?
In order to answer this question, we must take a look at the future of our children. With the growing prevalence of technology in every facet of our lives – from digital grocery shopping to project management, students must be equipped to do more than watch YouTube videos and post on Instagram. They need a thorough and practical knowledge and understanding of information systems, typing skills, and coding. Technology will continue to be a part of everything in their lives, so the true test is knowing more than the mechanics ― it’s knowing how to use tech with purpose. They need to be taught the consequences, positive and negative, of their interactions with technology. It is a matter of ethics and morality.
According to Miriam-Webster, ethics are the principles of conduct governing a group and morals are principles of right and wrong behavior. In our society, how do we know what is right and wrong? Regardless of our political or religious beliefs, one thing upon which we can all agree is the law of love – doing good for ourselves and others.
One of the challenges with technology is that it depersonalizes activities and can, thereby, desensitize us. This is a longstanding issue that was even addressed by literary leaders a century ago, including TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Virginia Woolf during World War I (1914-1918). Through their poems and stories, they painted a picture of the grim realities of war, such as in Eliot’s The Waste Land. The accounts reflected the hand-to-hand combat nature of that war – a time when soldiers still looked into the whites of the eyes of their enemies. With the advancements of technology by World War II, soldiers were no longer face-to-face with their enemies. Guns and shells made it possible to keep more of a distance, both physically and emotionally. With the use of even greater advanced technologies, such as training simulations that look and feel like video games and drones for weapon deployment, the distance and depersonalization have increased all the more.
Think about the movies of the past twenty years that paint prophetic pictures of man vs. machine, such as The Matrix (1999) and The Book of Eli (2010). These and other films issue a warning of what will happen if we subordinate our ethical and moral responsibilities to the convenience of machines.
Therefore, it behooves us as educators and community leaders to take up the mantle of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, who advocate for individual freedoms and community justice – the dignity of the human being. As this relates to technology, we must remind ourselves and teach our students two very important principles:
1.) Technology is a tool that is to serve our needs as human beings. We are not slaves to it.
2.) There are real human beings on the other side of the screen who have rights, freedoms, thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
So, again, back to the question at hand. How can SEL and edtech work together for the benefit of our students? I believe it begins with valuing humans over machines. As my technologist friends say, “Technology is only as good as the people who create it…or use it.”
Edtech can support social-emotional learning by giving hands-on opportunities for development of CASEL’s five core competencies: self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship management, and social awareness.
When we use edtech for skill and drill in order to give us a snapshot of a student’s current abilities in a particular subject area, we are then able to provide more personalized instruction to meet their needs. This increases their own self-awareness. Additionally, the power of edtech can be harnessed to help students create meaningful and lasting projects, such as websites, blogs, and digital art. In our increasingly tech dependent world, we must teach students how to be responsible digital citizens and use technology for good. This helps improve their social awareness.
Not only can edtech be used to help increase self-awareness and social awareness, it can also be used as a tool for self-management, responsible decision-making, and relationship building, which are critical skills for employment in the workforce. Digital projects, such as coding or movie-making, demand problem-solving and collaboration in order to create a vibrant product and meet deadlines. The key to using edtech to promote social-emotional learning is to be intentional about the conversation with students about the competencies and skills they are developing for personal and interpersonal growth.
Three strategies for using technology to support social-emotional skill development:
1.) Define “The Good” — The Good is loving ourselves and loving others. Love is Courageous – standing up for what is right. Love is Honest – speaking and acting truthfully. Love is Kind – treating others the way we want to be treated.
2.) Make the human connection. — Have intentional and thorough conversations about the people on the other side of the screen. Talk about the real human beings who create and manage the technology as well as the real human beings who are impacted by technology, i.e., everything from electronic record management (EMRs) at hospitals to their own social media usage.
3.) Adopt a makerspace mentality. — Empower students to create with digital tools and give them a voice. Move beyond PowerPoint presentations to providing options for fun and interesting individual or group-based projects, such as comics, digital posters, movie trailers, songs, photo galleries, playlists, etc.