Open with Intention: Digital Diligence at the Moment of Connection

Image of a youth, from a bird's eye view over their shoulder, holding a smartphone. Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

Everytime we touch a device (or activate it with our voice), we do so with the goal of doing something. Maybe it is to look up information. Maybe it is to play a game. Maybe it is to buy something. Maybe it is a combination of these three common uses, and one leads to another in unexpected ways (and, without hardly a thought having gone into it, we wind up with another digital download charged to our accounts or a package that ends up on our doorsteps).

These brief examples, for me, are indicative of what we can do when we approach our interactions with technology — and with one another — from a stance of digital diligence. In addition to opening up our screens with a purpose (which can, to be clear, be for entertainment, if that is indeed our choice at the time given where we are at in our school or work day), we also need to think about what it means to approach with a stance of creating and connecting, not just consuming.

For instance, in thinking about how I interact with my own devices (and invite students to consider what they are doing with their), I wonder: how can we question our own motivations as the screen lights up? While it becomes increasingly faster and faster for our screens to recognize us (from passwords to fingerprints to facial recognition), there is still a split second in which we can move away from a mindless act of accessing the device and, instead, to evaluate the decision that we are making.

One way to do this might be to look retrospectively at what we have done in the past as a way to predict what we might do in the future. With the advent of apps like Screentime, we can quickly see where our time is being used and, as we plan for the day or week ahead, we can look at past patterns and determine when and how particular apps have added value to our relationships, study, and work, and which ones have detracted from them. Assessing our usage of apps can give us insights about what we might want to click, or not, when we activate our phones. Making the choice to stay away from an app that sucks away our time, or clicking on a particularly tempting link, while difficult, is possible.

To be clear, this is not a new idea. As one example, we can look to Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast, and the “Delete That App” part of the challenge. We can also look at ideas like Sally Kohn’s TED Talk, where she encourages us to fight the urge to click on clickbait. What I would like to do is extend these ideas as part of a lesson we can teach students, even those in elementary school and certainly those in middle and high school, and as a part of an English language arts curriculum.

In short, I would invite students to set a purpose for using the tech, in much the same way would would invite them to set a purpose for reading. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is something that I was thinking about as we look to the common strategy of purpose-setting. Just as we would ask students to use these questions in strategic ways when approaching a text, there are a few questions that we might ask as we approach a use of tech.

Setting a Purpose for Reading Setting a Purpose for Using an App (or Browsing the Web, Playing a Game, or Otherwise Using Tech)
What do you know about this topic?
  • What do you know about this app (website, game, etc)?
  • Have you experienced it before, or is it new to you?
What do you know about this genre?
  • What do you know about the way that this app (website, game, etc) functions?
  • How might it be similar to or different from other apps (websites, games, etc) that you already use?
What do you hope to understand/comprehend as a result of reading?
  • As a result of using this app (website, game, etc), what do you hope to have gained?
    • Is it primarily for entertainment? To learn a new skill? To provide more context/knowledge about a topic?
  • About how long do you plan to use this app (website, game, etc), and why is that an appropriate time frame?
  • How will you know that your experience using this all (website, game, etc) has been successful?
    • How will you feel? What will you come to think about in a new way?

 

Again, all of my thinking on these blog posts in the weeks ahead (as with all blogging, really!) are tentative. I would appreciate any and all feedback, helping me refine what I am sharing so I can translate that into substantive lessons for my book.

How might we be able to use these purpose-setting questions with students to help them open their screens with intention?


Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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