Gift from God or Tool of the Devil?

          There has been no ambivalence on the position of the past three Popes regarding the value of the Internet to human society. Most recently Pope Francis weighed in by proclaiming that the Internet is a “gift from God” (Kington, 2014). Previously, Pope Benedict had claimed that if the Internet had been around during the time of St. Paul that he would have used every tool available as a result of this technology. Pope Benedict (2013) also taught that the Internet itself is an extraordinarily powerful but morally neutral means of communication that can be used as a tool to achieve unprecedented good. At the same time Benedict recognized that there are great evils that are associated with the ways in which humanity uses the Internet. It is with this dichotomy of possibilities that the discussion regarding the Internet follows a path similar to that of nuclear energy as society recognizes the great potential for good existing simultaneously with the great potential for evil.

            It is instructive that we see this same pattern evolving with the use of technology in the realm of education. For the purposes of this assignment in which we have been asked to blog about the ethical issues related to the use of technology in education I decided to turn to the local team of experts with whom I live (also known as my children) to get their perspectives based on their own experiences of education today. One just graduated from college, two will be returning to college next month, and the fourth will be a junior in high school.

“Scatterbrained Idiots”

It is interesting to me that the most common response I got was exemplified by my daughter who said “It turns kids into scatterbrained idiots.” This is admittedly a pretty harsh judgment. When I probed for details I was given countless anecdotes related to classmates using cell phones, visiting Pinterest sites, Instagram accounts, playing Candy Crush, and actively Facebooking during class. When I asked my children why they felt this was an ethical issue they responded that it all became an enormous distraction. It robbed the students of their best opportunities to learn. Additionally, their fellow classmates were unable to actively participate in class because they were not actually paying attention to the subject matter the instructor was trying to teach. They also felt that there were ethical issues related to the individual schools touting their ability to develop technologically savvy graduates when in reality the technical expertise had little to do with the areas in which students were studying for degrees.

“Dishonesty”

The second most common response that I got was that the technology offered numerous temptations to be dishonest. This dishonesty can take place in many ways. Fellow classmates can take pictures of test questions for students who will be taking the test the next period, week, or semester. Another means by which dishonesty takes place is, of course, plagiarism. I did not have to go to my children to understand this one. However, it was instructive that they each knew it was possible to not only “copy and paste” text from a web source into their own paper but that it was not unheard of for people to purchase papers over the Internet. This practice can be curbed somewhat through the use of websites such as turnitin.com commonly used by English composition teachers. This website compares the text from papers that students submit to a massive database of papers that have been seriously published. However, even turnitin.com is no match for the student who wants to go out and purchase one of the many services available that will provide you with a freshly researched and written original term paper at a cost of $12.00 – $40.00 per page depending upon how fast you need it.

“Cyber-bullying”

The final issue, which I hear about nearly every week in my role as a school administrator, is cyber-bullying. Bullying has been with us for millennia. However, there is something about the pervasiveness of social media combined with the adolescent tendency to be harshly critical of peers, along with the lack of face-to-face contact when we type messages on computer screens which combines to bring out the worst instincts in teenagers. For some of the worst examples of the results of such bullying you can visit this resource provided by nobullying.com.

Conclusion

Just as nuclear fission and fusion are not going anywhere in the near future, the use of technology in education has similarly become rooted in our way of doing things. The wise practitioner in the field of education learns where the pitfalls are, tries to protect the integrity of the teaching–learning process, and instructs their students in the prudent use of the resources provided by technology. It is a tall task but one that must be addressed vigorously.

References

Kington, T. (2014, January 23). Pope Francis says the Internet is a “gift from God” Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-internet-pope-gift-god-20140123-story.html

Pope Benedict XVI. (2013, May 12). Message for the 47th World Communications Day. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/communications/index_en.htm

Six Unforgettable Cyberbullying Cases. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/

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15 thoughts on “Gift from God or Tool of the Devil?

  1. Julie Fickas says:

    Joe –
    Jeremiah 17:9 speaks to the evil that lurks in hearts. The good tool can be used just as easily, if not more so, for evil. I’ve found there is no way to stomp out the unethical use of the internet in my classroom, but I appeal to their hearts at the beginning of the semester by showing the disparity between good and evil uses. I also go on to explain that generally a student that does not learn what they need to learn because they are taking shortcuts will be found out as they progress. My students have to take Board exams. The students that don’t take their studying seriously are found out on these exams or even before.

    On the flip side, the internet has allowed us to explore questions during class that would have taken weeks to research before. We also don’t have to waste class time taking quizzes and I can assign tasks that help them to get the repetition with materials that the brain needs to put things into long-term memory.

    The balancing of good and evil is constant and in all things – even internet use.

    • Julie,

      What a clever and practical approach to illustrating the good and evil that may lurk in the depths of one’s heart. My hope is that, that particular appeal touches your students hearts and minds negating any potential evil/unethical thoughts that could appear. I appreciate your sharing this approach as it can be used and/or tweaked to suit the needs of others.

  2. I love your idea of turning to your children to understand their perspective. It’s intriguing to see how children view technology. Their insights were invaluable. The fact is technology offers numerous opportunities to cheat for students. It also fosters dishonesty. We have to educate our students about the dangers of not working hard and real-life consequences for their actions.

    The Internet does provide beneficial rewards to teachers. It provides me an outlet to discover information and tools that I never thought could be possible. Yet, it also can be mean, harsh and unpleasant, in regards to your paragraph about cyberbullying.

    Thank you for your thoughts this week!

    Tanishia

    • Thanks for your thoughts Tanishia. I am certainly convinced that on balance I much prefer life with the internet. I subscribe to the thinking that it is a gift from God.

      God bless you with a great evening!

  3. I really liked that you got the opinion of your children and that her thoughts were scattered brain idiots. My kids try and multitask when using devices for entertainment but do not think at all of doing this when they are working on actual school work. What a novel idea! I am guilty as well of using three devices at once an even print out articles to use them as resources. What bothers me is something that you mention that at school, students do everything else but pay attention. I believe it’s because as parent we do not realize that technology is so pervasive and integrated in to our everyday lives that students do not see this as disrespectful anymore. I purposely refuse to answer my phone if I am interacting with another in a social setting but I notice that most people don’t do this. Has technology made us less respectful? I remember when my mother would not let us bring books to the table at dinner because it was our time to come together as a family and talk about the day’s events. Replace the book with a cell or tablet and I see the same results. If a parent sets this as a rule maybe our kids win learn the value of paying attention. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. In my opinion the internet is evil. More than good!

    Eric

    • “…In my opinion the internet is evil. More than good!”

      Really, Eric? The internet has no soul … only the people using it. To label a tool as evil shifts the responsibility away from humans. And, as leaders, it potentially biases us against a tool that has great potential.

      • Britt, I was being silly. I agree tools are just a means but what I really think is that people who what to do wrong have a means to do just that. You can teach leaders all the ethical considerations you want but if they intend on misusing the resources it’s truly difficult to prevent. It goes back to a debate topic I was faced with years ago, “resolved that man is inherently evil!” That’s pretty hard to refute these days. One last note, it’s really hard to determine context digitally.
        Thanks for the comment.

      • And a good finish …

        “…Education, like health care, must advance its content and delivery systems to keep pace with emerging needs. Distance learning will be one part of our educational future. But it won’t be the only part.”

  4. Joe, an excellent summary. As Dave Barry would say, “Scatterbrained Idiots” would make a great name for a rock band!

    Your ending is applicable to more fields than just education: “…The wise practitioner in the field of [education / healthcare / non-profits / business] learns where the pitfalls are, tries to protect the integrity of the [teaching–learning / patient-care / service / product] process, and instructs their [students / staff / employees] in the prudent use of the resources provided by technology.” Good advice!

    • Thank you Dr. Watwood.

      I do know the current technologies available to humanity is both a gift and a challenge for all of us – just like nuclear fission. I hope that through God’s grace we continue to make the good fruit far outweigh the bad fruit of those who make poor choices with how they use this technology.

      In my estimation, the good guys are winning this battle so far – by a lot!

  5. Jdhollowell,
    You couldn’t have gotten a better group of experts to discuss this area of ethics . Bravo to you in your creative approach to this research. I appreciate your children’s honesty and disclosure as it relates to the ethical concerns of technology within education during a time when each of them have been exposed to the very same technology as his/her peers. This type of honesty leads me to believe that your children, while understanding the ethical issues, have elected to remain on the positive/bright side of technology within education. My question on this end is what has made them elect to act this way as opposed to succumbing to the “easy way out” or the “evil side”? Is there something other than their rearing?

    As you moved through the response categories, I could relate each of those responses to conversations I have had with my students as well as what I have observed with my very own eyes. My students, very much so practice behaviors that your children have described as “scatterbrained idots”. On the contrary, my students would consider their actions multi-tasking. My question there – how much attention could an individual provide to each task? One certainly couldn’t extend 100% attention to each of those activities at the same time. Something would be neglected for sure.

    Dishonesty within education – certainly the door has been opened to finding creative ways to cheat and/or practice actions that fall under honor code violations. My students response to this, “If you don’t cheat, you don’t try”. While this catch phrase appears to be something they believe in, it’s clearly and ethical concern. With the understanding that technology will continue to evolve and be encouraged/utilized within a classroom setting, how can this ethical concern be curtailed? Were you able, by chance to solicit responses from the experts regarding curving/limiting these unethical behaviors in education? I’d be curious to hear their respective reflections.

    • 30k,

      Thanks for your affirmation of my approach to this week’s assignment. We did have an interesting time of conversation that day. However, I did not think to ask them to give any suggestions they might have as to how some of these problems could be addressed. That is an excellent idea and I will try to find some time to do that in the coming days. If I do get any creative ideas I will let you know by response to one of your blog posts over our final two weeks.

      God bless you with a great week!

  6. Hello JD – It is great that you approached your kids about this topic! I asked my daughter (who will be going into the 7th grade this year) her opinion about smartphones in the classroom. She feels the same as your children in that the kids who are using the phone while in class are not getting the most out of school. She feels that school is a place for learning not socializing during class time. She has not seen anyone use their phones to cheat but she is pretty sure someone has.

    I believe the internet is a gift from god. The pros definitely outweigh the cons. Life before the internet was much slower and it could take a long time to learn information, but I really enjoy not spending hours in a library. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Dewey Decimal System but the amount of information at our fingertips is fantastic!

    As far as ethics go, I believe the internet and ethics can work together as long as you have good intentions about how you use the internet. My daughter says each teacher spends time talking about the internet and how to utilize it properly often. This may fall into the best practice method of constantly reminding kids how to use it for good. Like they say, repetition is good for a developing brain!

    Thank you for a great post!

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