The Online Teacher

Through the Noise: Balance in a Digital World



Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

When thinking about balance in a digital world, three questions come to mind: why is balance necessary; how do we demonstrate or measure it; are educators modelling, achieving, and accepting it? These questions, I believe, are vital in determining how successful we will be in navigating the digital world – educationally, socially, and emotionally.

Why is balance necessary?

Digital technology is a growing part of how young people define themselves, but we need to provide them the freedom to enjoy the vast benefits of technology, while ensuring the health and development of the whole being. Balance is necessary, I believe, to be a productive, happy and healthy citizen, particularly today with the array of challenges the digital world presents. As echoed in many #ETMOOC sessions, we need to model how to use technology and how to be a good digital citizen; one that nurtures and gives back to our digital world. Jeff Merrell (#ETMOOC Facilitator and Lecturer of learning and organizational change) in an #ETMOOC Twitter chat noted, “Citizenship has embedded in it the idea of being part of a larger community. It’s not just about us.” Through giving back to our digital world, we can hopefully effect change both on and offline.

*Some #ETMOOC resources on Digital Citizenship may be found here. The #ETMOOC archives are also rich with valuable insight and information.

How do we demonstrate or measure balance?  

How Life is Like Dinner Theatre: On Embracing Participatory Culture, by Amy Burvell (#ETMOOCer, history teacher, progressive thinker and visionary), has caused me to think about how society has become accustomed to and dependent on social media connections. We rely on soundbites, or short bursts of information, and we seek a back channel to formulate thoughts and questions. Ultimately, we want to participate and be connected. I for one have learned how powerful a Personal Learning Network can be, and I appreciate my Twitter PLN and the 140 character (maximum) tweets, which often reference more helpful links to articles, videos, and the like. Recently, I have also experienced the benefit of back channel chats, noticing that chats help to process and clarify thoughts, information, and questions on a topic being presented. Yet, how much is this participatory culture changing our learning style and balance?

Amy Burvell‘s blog, Soundbitification, brings up an interesting observation, and that is, are we becoming less able to read lengthier articles without losing our focus and getting bored? Furthermore, could it be that society is becoming less able to communicate face to face when the conversation is at a slower pace or less concise? As noted in The Elevator Speech, Social-Media Style, tweeted by Glenn Hervieux (#ETMOOCer, Technology Coordinator, and E-Rate Consultant), businesses are beginning to change their hiring practices based on digital trends and social media. For example, Pizza Hut’s new direction in hiring will require employees to communicate in a social media manner that gets straight to the point. Yet, what does this mean for us as a society?

Is society becoming less able to demonstrate lifelong skills such as:                     photo (2)

  • patience while listening to someone (for example, a senior) struggle to formulate a concise statement or a thoughtful argument (I’ve noticed some ‘power tweeters’ almost vibrate while listening to a lengthy conversation, perhaps from their seemingly addicted need to get back to the Twitter stream)
  • tolerance for a different style or custom, whether it be communication, learning, teaching, etc. (i.e., in some societies, snippets of information may not be desirable or accepted)
  • face to face social skills, etiquette, and personal lasting relationships – many feel these skills require the ability to turn off the ‘noise’ in order to listen (as suggested by a recent blog in HuffPost: Social Media, Mobile Devices and the Demise of Social Skills)

If this is the case, what is the cost that we as a society will pay?

Photo Credit: University of Maryland Press Releases via Compfight cc


Or, perhaps a better question might be, is society becoming better able to:

  • multitask (one can find research to both support and dispute this)
  • get our point across and ‘cut to the chase’ – using Twitter certainly necessitates the need to be succinct!
  • seek knowledge and participate in self-directed study and independent learning
  • openly ask for help and find solutions –  forums and chats seem to indicate this (whether it be at the individual or corporate level, or science research that is moving into ‘the cloud’)
  • make connections and develop relationships in a more interconnected and rhizomatic way, thus tearing down cultural and social walls and boundaries.

I wonder, are the benefits of these digital skills always visible and thereby measurable? Could balance be a term that is continually redefining itself, therefore, impossible to measure?

Are educators modelling, achieving, and accepting balance?

As an educator, I truly believe we can only achieve balance if we demonstrate balance, and to demonstrate balance, I feel we need to let go of the ‘only this or only that‘ ideology and come to recognise that variety is the spice of life. Alternatives are necessary, and there are many ways to achieve a desired result. I appreciate differing points of view, even when I don’t always understand them, and I feel that tolerance and respect can lead to an appreciation of other perspectives. So, for example, although I would find it extremely challenging to teach without a plethora of technology, I believe that teachers who currently choose a different approach always manage to offer students something special and unique. By accepting difference, we can open the doors to collaboratively help each other learn. Maybe by offering a balanced and varied perspective to students, we strengthen their ability to adapt and change, and hence survive, in an ever-changing world.

Unfortunately, the rapidly changing face of the digital world does not always afford us the luxury to know how our actions today will impact life tomorrow, so it is crucial for educators to promote digital citizenship (and citizenship, in general). As stated by Alec Couros (#ETMOOC Facilitator, Edtech and Media Professor and Keynote Speaker), “We talk about having students adjust to our world or the world ahead, but I’m not sure if we’ve adjusted to their current reality.” I feel this is a significant statement that needs further discussion in educational forums, and I wonder, do educators really know what the current reality is? As Tom Whitby comments in The Business of Education, “If educators are to be effective they must be relevant.” Is it easier to be relevant as a collaborative whole? I think so. Do we need to include the students in this discussion? Most definitely.

As educators, we need to teach about digital footprints and how they can impact our lives, both online and offline. Yet, can we sometimes inadvertently condone or not condone online attitudes? For example, it  can be difficult to avoid playing into the culture of public shaming that often occurs in social media. Perhaps the public shaming of individuals who have made poor online presence choices, generating “digital tattoos” as some have coined it (prints you are stuck with), is not the best way to instill an attitude of thoughtful dialogue and respect with regard to digital citizenship. After all, if public shaming becomes the norm, will society become immune to social consequences? Additionally, some may view a tattoo as a work of art or a sign of creativity. Instead, a willingness to listen, understand, help and support may set a better example. Through listening, we can create opportunities to help each other navigate this difficult digital world (a world that will undoubtedly see us make many more mistakes). Let’s listen; together we might just find balance!

A Haiku Deck: Through the Noise


Thank you to Susan Spellman Cann (@SSpellmanCann) for inspiring this attempt at creativity. Susan is a Counsellor extraordinaire, #ETMOOCer, and Haiku Deck Guru! 

Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.
Helen Keller 


17 thoughts on “Through the Noise: Balance in a Digital World

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  9. Thanks for bringing up this important topic, Fenella. The question of whether or not we are really listening and reflecting in the midst of the sound-bytes of Twitter, texts, chats, etc. is an excellent question and one we certainly should spend time talking over with students and fellow educators. I was a little disheartened when I read the article about employers expecting someone to represent themselves in 140 secs. and wondered how they could accurately get a sense of someone in those “bytes” of time. As you point out, there are many things we are getting better at because of our ease of connecting through social media. But we also need to consider how we are connecting to others and the messages we are sending out about ourselves and others.

    With students, I’m already seeing some struggle with reading longer pieces, as you pointed out, whether it be a blog post, a novel, non-fiction material, etc. because of the “energy” that’s created with the bursts of noise from their social media use. Not only reading, but doing basic reflections and responding to others opinions outside of 140 characters. How well are they listening while their cell phones are vibrating or chirping with the latest text or Tweet? Will they be satisfied with just short bursts of communication and lose something in the longer, more reflective exchanges? And will we all find time to disengage from our technology long enough to let our minds REST. I’m personally finding it more difficult to do that. Will we get through the noise? (Your Haiku Deck is a great way to engage us in thinking about that!)

    • Hi Glenn. Thanks so much for your reflections and insight. As you mention, technology brings huge advantages, but it also presents struggles that we as individuals and as a society need to address. Furthermore, where I lie on the issue can sometimes seem like a sliding scale due to my needs or views at the time (this is why I think that an ‘only this or only that’ ideology doesn’t work). I think this is where the balance has to come in. At this point, I look at the so-called balance as being similar to a diet. As long as your diet is balanced for the week and your general approach is healthy, fluctuation and variation from one day to the next is OK. As teachers, perhaps the most important tool in our tool kit is not the technology itself, but the life-lessons, skills, and ethics we choose to discuss and advocate in conjunction with the use of technology (‘tech health,’ for lack of a better term). Of course, this discussion requires us to listen so that we can enter the dialogue in a meaningful and supportive way (not lecturing, but letting the students be an integral part of the dialogue). We need to help students learn to reflect, evaluate and set balances, limitations and goals (important skills for all areas of life). As you say, this is not easy to do, no matter what the age. I hope this makes sense, and who knows, perhaps my view will change one way or another over time. As always, thank you for helping me reflect and ponder a topic of great significance to our students. Conversations like this are helpful. I hope, if we listen, we will help each other get through the noise. I’m glad you liked the Haiku Deck. 🙂

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  11. Reblogged this on tech | design | education and commented:
    Folynick has written thought-provoking ideas concerning whether educators are understanding their demographic. The idea of a ‘digital tattoo’ is also one that I had never heard before. Worth the read.

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  15. magnificent publish, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not realize this.

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