I recently handed a boarder an envelope and asked them to write his address on it – a simple request, or so I believed. The boarder went away and came back with his email address written across the front of the envelope. I am sure all boarding staff are aware of how the immersion of technology is shaping and developing young people’s social identities. Unfortunately, the rate at which this immersion has taken place often surpasses our own knowledge and understandings leading us to feel less secure and, at times, relatively powerless. How often do you hear boarding staff, academic staff, or parents complain about a student using some type of digital media, or always being on “the phone”? Most educational institutions address these insecurities by blocking access to certain websites (a little bit harder now with data packages on most phones) or banning the digital media device during certain times of the day and night. In a time of digital and online bullying, privacy issues and general inappropriate use of technology some may say that banning and blocking is justified. I am sure if I wished to start an on-line discussion about “Snapchat” and how boarding communities tried to address this at times, unsavoury digital application, the input would be vast and variable. I also wonder how many of us realise that “Snapchat” is now being used as a marketing tool to cash in on the rapidly growing purchasing power and increased use of digital socialisation by teenagers under the age of eighteen.
Students’ access to technology and digital media, not only to the aforementioned types of applications, but to learning materials and information, is shaping how they learn. Additionally, the increased use of technology and digital media in all educational settings has placed a greater demand on students to learn using these means. Unfortunately, this has also placed increased demands on those involved in the care of students to develop their understanding and competencies of these technologies. Most of us will develop a basic understanding of technological and digital developments to become technologically literate in order to remain productive and to develop and deliver new pedagogies to maintain our primary work function and accountabilities. Conversely, through their increased use of digital information, on-line social networking, ICT, and digital multitasking, students will develop and become digitally literate. There is a clear distinction between the two – someone who has the appropriate skills and competence in using technology (technologically literate) and those that have the ability to communicate, manipulate and function comfortably in an immersed digital environment (digitally literate).
The big question is what does this mean for our boarding communities? If I cast my mind back to 2005, the biggest threat facing many boarding communities at this time was the fact that mobile phones had cameras. Things have come a long way in less than 10 years – Where will they be in another 10 years? Boarding communities need to develop their ability to provide a truly supportive digital learning environment, as opposed to one that offers a simple technological one. They need to create an environment that offers the best opportunities for boarders to learn in a manner best suited to their preferred learning style. The impact of technology in education has resulted in learning becoming a far more collaborative endeavour. This has only been enhanced as wireless networks, smartboards, laptops and tablets have brought with them significant pedagogical change. These technologies, along with smartphones, digital media players and mass storage devices have become the educational norm for students. As the demand on our boarders to be digitally literate in methods of social interaction, learning on-line and communicating increase, there will be a need for them to continually develop their digital literacy. Boarding communities need to ensure that their policies, procedures and infrastructure developments include how boarders interact in their environment which is now saturated with technology and digital media, as well as the societal and social contexts created by this technological and digital immersion.