Critically Thinking About Teens and Technology

Over the past week I’ve been reading about teens and technology and about the media’s handling of major news events. A theme running through the reading I’ve been doing is that critical thinking is an important part of what adults and teens need to do in order to make good technology decisions. For example:

  • I’m not sure why I didn’t start following @larrymagid (Larry Magid) on Twitter until a couple of weeks ago, but now that I am following him, I’ve discovered three recent articles by Magid that serve to highlight the important role critical thinking plays when it comes to teens and technology.

    On June 22 Magid wrote on his blog about the need to give students a chance to use technology as a critical thinking tool and not simply outlaw devices because students might use them to cheat. He quotes librarians in his post and makes a very strong case for teaching technology in order to use technology wisely.

    Then, on June 24, Magid wrote about recent research that shows teens are technology savvy and not likely to thoughtlessly get involved in dangerous situations as some regularly fear. (This most recent research follows-up on earlier data that showed the same thing and this new research also shows that sexting is not something that teens fall into mindlessly.) Teens often make informed decisions about how to use technology and even if they know certain behaviors are not the “right” way to go they still decide to go-ahead with that behavior. Of course this isn’t new that teens sometimes make bad decisions. Technology gives them another opportunity to do that and we can help mitigate those by giving teens the chance to make good choices with technology.

    Magid’s column on C|Net on June 22 highlights the importance of helping teens to think about what decisions they make but not simply expecting every teen to need the same support when it comes to decision-making. In this column Magid asks readers to realize that a one-size-fits all approach to helping young people think critically in order to make good decisions about technology use does not work. He highlights that adults have to look at risk factors in a variety of situations and provide tips and tools for teens to support the specific risks they face within their home and community.

  • In today’s New York Times there is an article that discusses Brigham Young University’s (BYU) decision to no longer block YouTube. One of the reasons cited for this decision is that there is a wide-array of educational content on the site. Not only does this demonstrate that BYU spent time critically thinking about why they banned YouTube in the first place, and compared their earlier reasoning to the benefits of use of the site, it also demonstrates that it’s important to continually evaluate decisions in order to best serve a specific population. BYU’s change of heart serves as a model for institutions to continually analyze and re-think decisions and not simply assume that what once was continues to be.
  • The death of Michael Jackson and the way Twitter, Wikipedia, and traditional news media handled the event provides lots of future opportunities for helping teens understand how to crtically evaluate and use information.

    Consider the fact that TMZ reported Jackson’s death before any of the more traditional news outlets. We might ask teens to think about whether or not TMZ’s report should have been trusted at the moment it appeared, or, because they are non-traditional in the news media world. was it appropriate to wait until a more traditional source reported Jackson’s death to believe that it was true?

    It would also be good to ask teens to consider that Wikipedia had to shut down editing of the Michael Jackson page for a time because of all of the information people wanted to post when they heard of his death. It was the biggest traffic day for Wikipedia in it’s eight-year history. Teens might consider whether or not they should trust what Wikipedia had to say about Jackson just because it was current? How could they know what was true on Wikipedia and what wasn’t? These are just some of the things teens might think about as they consider the event and the information explosion that followed it.

    The life and death of Michael Jackson is a real story that teens can relate to and a perfect way to have them initiate real-life investigation about accuracy of information presented in different resources. While school librarians will hate me thinking this, part of me wishes that we were still in the midst of the school year so this real-life real-world information evaluation example could be integrated into teaching and learning immediately.

What I keep thinking about is the dynamic nature of technology, of information, and of the ways we can help teens learn to think critically about how they use technology and the information they find via technology.

In one week I found a lot to think about. Imagine the questions teens might have going through their brains in just one week of virtual and face-to-face conversations with friends, family, and librarians. Think about all of the information they’ve gathered via the Internet, newspapers, books, magazines, and so on. Why not ask them to talk with you about it and see if there are ways you can promote critical thinking during the conversations you have?

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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