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A reminder about technology use this holiday season

Friday, December 15, 2017

We suspect that many of you are considering technology devices for holiday gifts this season and thought it might be a good time to revisit some of the work around technology at San Francisco Friends School. SFFS continues to adopt a measured approach to rolling out new technology and to be attentive to the usage of the tech we already have. Our hope is to avoid gimmicky gadgets and try to meaningfully use technology as a tool for teaching and learning.

...there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits.

The Quaker tenet of Simplicity is often at odds with 21st century life. Threshing with the complexity of 21st century distractions and harnessing the core value of a tool is hard work! And, this wrestling is—in many ways—a defining characteristic of this generation students and our school. At school we often describe technology consumption with a food analogy: there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits. I guess we are all waiting for an Alice Waters ‘California Cuisine’ inspired moment when we can appreciate the tasty wholesome stuff and recognize the junk food for what it is. We all indulge in the occasional sweet, but the whole foods help us thrive.

One of the standout technology (junk food) concerns at school, and probably home, are digital distractions. It is nearly impossible for a classroom teacher or parent to compete with Youtube! We know that media companies exist to captivate our time and attention. To address this we are building on a strong foundation of digital citizenship curriculum that promotes responsible student behavior with technology. We are pleased that our Quaker values translate to the digital realm and we are working hard to leverage them for continued responsible use. Yet, we also recognize that digital devices have an undeniable ability to pull our time and attention in unproductive ways. Admittedly, many of us tech committee members and faculty struggle with efficient use of technology in our professional and personal lives.

Some of you may have heard about “Net-ref.” In order to help our Middle School students focus, we have introduced a pilot of a tool called Net-ref. Our Middle School faculty can use Net-ref to monitor network usage and help students avoid online distractions. If needed, our faculty can temporarily put students in a “Focus” mode which limits access to a few dozen core academic (wholesome food) websites. Students can request to be put into a “Focus” mode or faculty can review their data and nudge them into “Focus” if deemed necessary. So far, we have found that Net-ref works pretty well. A key to the Net-ref pilot’s success has been communicating to our students that we can and will “pull the internet plug”  when it seems helpful.

Perhaps a similar approach could be useful in your home? I have previously tested two consumer products with similar functionality. Several vendors have made tools with parental control features, such as Disney’s “Circle” and Google’s “Wifi” *(both ~$100.00).  They both have a small hardware box that provide a lot of utility. They allow parents to control the type of content (e.g. block hate groups, violence, etc.) and the time that internet is available. This makes it easy to “pull the internet plug” at bedtime for all of the children's devices in the house. Both devices are pretty flexible with time extensions (easy to temporarily extend the cut-off time in 15 minutes increments). And, also worth sharing that the setup is not much more complex than plugging in a wireless router.  

So, if you are adding more digital devices at home this holiday season, please consider a tool to help manage them. Having a similar strategy at school and home may go a long ways in both locations. We hope that having a similar technology conversation and tools at home will be helpful with you managing your family's relationship with the wholesome food version of technology and media. We look forward to continuing this conversation and sharing additional resources in the near future.