On a chilly night in February, more than 80 Park community members – including students in Grades V-VIII, parents, and educators – came together to “talk tech” for a lively, fully-engaged three hours. The model we used mirrored an “ed camp,” in which all the participants talk and learn from each other instead of listening to an expert or keynote speaker. By convening in smaller groups organized by topic, each attendee witnessed each others’ insights, experiences, concerns, and expertise. It truly was a community conversation about the joys, confusions, difficulties, and wins that families and School navigate in using and managing various aspects of current technologies.
Participants arrived in the Dining Room at 5:30 p.m., where greeters offered each person two “conversation cards” with tech-related questions like “How old were you when you got your first smartphone?” and “How would you make the Internet kinder?” to spark conversation and break the ice around the room. By 6:00, it was so lively that Caroline Beasley, Upper Division Head, had to rein us in to introduce the rest of the program! Then, Megan Haddadi, Head of Academic Technology, introduced the “ed camp” model and its guidelines. Participants generated their own topics and could choose to attend their favorite from tech-related workshops in different classrooms. There were two one-hour sessions, with topics that included: tech “contracts,” gaming, social media, a multi-generational panel discussion, with a break in between for a “byte-size” dinner, and a hands-on project in the Makerspace. This evening was “live!”
Each session welcomed students, parents, and educators to share their experiences. This cross-fertilization fostered really authentic conversation and unique insight. There was great enthusiasm for both the conversations and the “ed camp” model. At the close of the evening, participants were asked to use 3×5 index cards to reflect on the program. Both parents and students expressed that they personally benefited from and appreciated the presence and input of people from the other generation; and both generations expressed understanding there is a need for more intergenerational conversations both at home and at school. One parent shared, “It was very valuable to have Park students in both of the topic rooms I was in.” Students expressed feeling validated, heard, included, and listened-to, as one wrote, “I have an important perspective to share.”
The Tech 2.0 evening was not designed to resolve all of the concerns related to technology. In fact, participants generated dozens of questions on their index cards. Students wanted to know: When is the “right age” to get an Apple phone? What do you do when someone is being cyber-bullied? Is Fortnite finally going away? And their parents asked: What age for cell phone?! Am I limiting my child’s relationships by not giving one at 13? How can I stick with the habits I’d like my kids to have? How young does Park start teaching technology responsibility? Several parents asked about more opportunities for these conversations, “Can we do this annually?” – perhaps with breakouts by age-of-child.
Amidst enthusiasm and confusion about technology across the generations, it’s worth noting that there was also a palpable sense of concern and anxiety about the real risks inherent in our current technologies – and it’s not all from parents. One Park alum on the panel offered perspective on how young adults’ use of technology evolves as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. Many clearly learn self-regulation and learn to let go of anxiety around FOMO or “fear of missing out.”
With the School actively fostering multi-generational conversations as well, Park graduates stand a better-than-average chance of growing into creative and self-regulating users of technology, while keeping their tech lives grounded in the context of healthy and robust human relationships across all the generations. As one parent commented, “this was a great community building event and a fun way to get to know other families and students. Each family has a unique take on technology and using it appropriately for their family.”
The three-part Talking Tech series this spring is clearly helping students and families manage tech together. The February 27th event was dubbed “Talking Tech 2.0” because it followed Talking Tech 1.0 in January, an evening for parents to learn and talk with staff about Park’s new rules around technology use during the academic day. On Tuesday, April 3rd, Talking Tech 3.0 will feature speaker Dr. Jill Walsh
For ongoing resource-sharing, book recommendations, and more, moderated by Tory Lane, follow this link.