Continuing our series on what writers of YA fiction need to know about schools . . .
Twelve years ago, I invented out of thin air a class called media literacy. The students dissect commercials and movies and magazine ads and product placement and more. During the music unit, I told my students to bring in a favorite song so we could trade and discuss in groups.
When the class began, my students brought in cassette tapes. Then CDs started showing up, along with personal CD players. The bright little discs finally edged out cassettes entirely. Six or seven years ago, a few showed up with MP3 players. Then more and more followed suit. One year the MP3 players supplanted CDs entirely. Then, practically overnight, the MP3 players vanished. Now all my students play or stream music through their cell phones.
Ten years ago, LiveJournal was THE social network. My students asked each other what their LJ name was instead of trading phone numbers. Then MySpace showed up, causing a stampede. MySpace ruled the social networks for several years–until Facebook appeared. Within three years, teenagers considered MySpace as dead as LiveJournal. Most of my students have heard of neither one. (To a teenager, five years ago is most of a lifetime.)
Ten years ago, a student with a cell phone was a bit of an oddity. In Michigan, it was even illegal for a student to bring a cell phone to school. (I remember a teen comedy set in a wealthy school. A cell phone went off, and all the students in the vicinity reached for their pockets or purses to check if it was theirs. Big laugh. It was funny because the idea of a whole bunch of teens being able to afford cell phones was ridiculous. Ho ho ho.) Now it’s a rare high schooler who doesn’t have one. Texting, which didn’t exist eight years ago, is now a standard, even preferred, method of communication.
The point is, technology changes FAST, and your YA readers change along with it. They =will= keep up with it, and as a writer, you have to as well, or your readers will drop you. If you aren’t teen tech-savvy . . . tough. You need to be. Your readers are.
I’m actually a little hesitant to discuss what’s going on right now in schools, technology-wise. In a year, or even a few months, the information may be out of date. But I’ll give it a shot.
TEXTING AND CELL PHONES
We all know teens text. But here’s the thing–text-speak is dying. (“RU?” for “Are you?”) Now that phone have full-blown keyboards, abbreviating texts is seen as annoying or kid stuff.
Most school don’t allow students to text or otherwise use their phones during class. It’s a distraction from instruction. Penalties vary. The phone might be confiscated until the end of the day, or the student might get a detention, or any number of things. Exceptions can be made if the teacher wants it, such as the lesson above in which I want the students to show off some of their favorite music.
My school allows students to use their phones between classes and at lunch, but this is a brand new rule, created just this year. Previously, their phones had to be shut off in class. The second the bell rings, they snatch up their phones to check for texts and they plug in their headphones. Other schools have their own policies.
Students, of course, became adept–or so they think–at sneaking texts to each other. As a teacher, I see their wrists moving under the table. They think I’m blind, or something.
I used to find paper notes on my classroom floor all the time. I haven’t seen one in years. Texting has destroyed the age-old tradition of writing notes.
Students do use their phones to surreptitiously record what their teachers do on video or audio, and they sometimes post this stuff on social networks, causing trouble and controversy. This can be an interesting plot point for a YA book.
Me, I’m betting that within five more years, cell phones will be integrated into classroom instruction.
Computer access varies wildly from school to school. The more money a school has, the more computers it will have. Some schools give out laptops to all students. (They either have some serious cash or, more likely, they got a grant.) Any school with a computer lab will likely have a wireless network. This actually causes problems because students love using the school network for their smart phones. When class lets out at my school, the network slows considerably. Legally, the school is allowed to monitor anything and everything students do on a school computer or school network. This includes web surfing, downloads, and email. Speaking of which . . .
What is this email of which you speak?
Seriously, students rarely use email. About the only thing they use it for is to transfer files. When they want to communicate, they text. They don’t email.
Some teachers accept homework via email, some don’t. I don’t, despite my reputation as a tech guru. It’s slower and more annoying to grade electronic homework.
Teachers, on the other hand, email quite a lot. We email each other, we email administrators, we email parents. By law, however, all email of public employees must be archived and made available to anyone armed with a FOIA form. And, naturally, the administration can read anything and everything. Me, I always pretend that the superintendent and a reporter are reading whatever I send from a school computer. Because they can, if they want.
Next time: Technology 1.2 . . .
–Steven Harper Piziks
The Doomsday Vault (a Clockwork Empire novel) available at bookstores everywhere.
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