It’s no epiphany that holding the attention of 25 teenagers can be harrowing at the best of times.
In today’s high schools, smartphones have exacerbated waning concentration, allowing students to play hooky without ever leaving the classroom.
Teachers walk a fine line between alienating students through an outright ban on digital devices or accepting the inevitable confused stares from half the class when asking for feedback.
While most teachers police cellphone use to maintain some sense of control, Vic High instructor Jim Pine prefers to point his media literacy class in the direction of infamous Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan.
“McLuhan said, ‘Don’t ask if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but ask what’s going on,'” Pine said. “First we shape our tools, and then they shape us.”
To get the class thinking about their relationship to and reliance on technology, Pine challenged them to go 24 hours without using any digital or electronic devices. Cellphones, laptops, iPods, TV and even radio were off limits from the beginning of one class until the next.
“Going into it, I thought it was going to be fairly difficult, but when I started doing it, I found it really easy to disconnect,” said Grade 12 student Tejana Howes.
Knowing the inevitable ban was looming, Howes and her friends organized horseback riding and other outdoor activities to keep the digital temptation at bay.
“I was fine until the next morning, when I noticed it’s really integrated into my routine,” said Lancy Fynn, also in Grade 12. “Every morning I get up, I get ready, and then I go on Youtube, check my email and look at the news before going to school. I just felt a huge void.”
Howes and Fynn agreed the biggest inconvenience in going offline was the necessity to make plans in advance and the inability to easily change those plans.
Howes said she also missed the convenience of Google Maps and other apps.
“Not knowing when my bus was going to come was pretty stressful,” she said.
The overall goal of media literacy class, Pine said, is to engage critical thinking and push students to delve more deeply into why some stories are written.
“All commercial media have commercial implications, and most media exist because they’re pitching a product,” he said.
“What I suggest is you need as wide a range of viewpoints as possible, from left to right. I want my students to distinguish between what’s being sold and what their truth is.”