Oli humanities teacher Noah Brennan-Sawyer explains how core technological competencies — and responsible technology consumption — can prepare students for success after high school.
Whether it’s used to conduct online research for a class project, produce a video, or operate modeling software programs, technology is a core component of Oli students’ lives — both inside and outside the classroom.
But as the modern academic landscape evolves to accommodate generations of digital natives and shifting research practices, it’s critical for schools to evaluate the role of technology on campus. How much is too much? What does responsible usage look like? How can we help our students develop into responsible, informed consumers of digital media?
We caught up with Oliverian humanities teacher Noah Brennan Sawyer to hear his take on these questions, and to learn about his approach to digital citizenship.
Q: What are Oliverian’s goals when it comes to blending technology and education?
A: At Oliverian, one of our goals is to help students develop a core set of technological skills that will prepare them to succeed in both college and workplace — and to act as responsible, respectful social citizens.
As teachers, we hope to prepare students to succeed in the next chapter of their lives, which necessitates not only that we provide opportunities for technology learning and experimentation, but that we provide guidance along the way. In the humanities, for instance, we make an effort to ensure students have organizational methods for their digital files and feel comfortable using email, learning management systems, and more. We also emphasize the importance of self-regulation and discipline when using technology to help students develop a stronger sense of focus.
We address questions of technology from two perspectives: media consumption and media creation. It’s crucial that students develop skills to discern what sources of information are likely to be accurate and reliable, and learn to be conscious of how they participate in dialogue online. We want students understand the implications and potential impact of everything they say and share on the internet.
Q: What opportunities do students have to use technology at Oliverian?
A: From an academic standpoint, we have to acknowledge that technological skills are now central to every discipline, so technology is integrated into many Oliverian courses.
There is also flexibility for students who want to pursue their own technological interests as well. We offer a variety of technology-specific classes during electives weeks, like music production and a class on responsible internet use. Students may also use technology in their senior projects. This year, in fact, two students collaborated to create a short film for their senior project.
Q: What role do ethics play in the use of technology at school?
A: Ethics play a critical role in our approach to technology at Oliverian. Above all, our mission as it relates to technology is to cultivate students who are responsible internet users and media consumers. This mission has a few implications.
First, in the traditional academic sense, we want to foster a discerning attitude toward sources of information, encouraging students to be critical consumers. As digital natives, they already have a strong understanding of the fact that not everything they encounter online will be true or reliable. This attitude goes hand-in-hand with the key component of learning how to cite source material in both traditional formats and in newer, more common ways like hyperlinking in blog posts.
Another ethical implication surrounds students’ behaviors and interactions online. We want our students to learn that being a responsible media user involves engaging with others cordially. We don’t tolerate disrespectful or slanderous language online.
Q: Does Oliverian monitor students’ personal use of technology?
A: We grant all students the freedom to use their own devices as they please until they give us cause for concern. If we see an unhealthy pattern of technology overuse or abuse, or if we’re made aware of online behaviors that don’t adhere to our ethical beliefs regarding responsibility, the school will regulate individual students’ technology privileges.
While we do take students’ online behavior seriously and will intervene when necessary, we are also actively trying to teach autonomy. We hope that our students feel comfortable expressing themselves online however they choose, so long as it is respectful and appropriate.