Source: Tom McIntyre, Virginia Tong, and Ellis Barowsky (In press). Do We Have the TechKNOWLEDGEgy? An irreverent look at the use of technology in managing behavior.

Technology and Behavior

 The tone sounded, indicating that I (Tom) had a new e-mail message.  It was from a professional list-serve and announced that a certain institution of higher education was searching for someone with "expertise in behavior disorders and technology".   I summoned two nearby colleagues and asked them: Did this phrasology mean that they wanted someone trained in behavior disorders who also happened to be a techno-geek?  Or did they desire someone familiar with electronic interventions for youngsters who display inappropriate behaviors?  If the second possibility was the case, what knowledge would candidates for the position of "EBD techno-prof" possess?  With what devices would they be familiar?  Only one of us (Virginia) has any knowledge and capability in the use of technology in the classroom, but her training is in the areas of ESL and linguistics.  Ellis and I have training in behavior disorders, but the highest technology item we ever used in the public school classroom was a mechanical pencil.

 In our travels to visit practica students, we've watched youngsters unload from school buses equipped with video cameras that record on-the-road behavior previous to passing through their school's state-of-the-art metal detectors and x-ray machines.  These technological gateways, used to search New York City youngsters and their belongings, are the last high-tech devices that many youngsters see as they pass into the electronic desert of their decaying schools.  But how else, we asked each other, might (post)modern technological marvels be used in schools and classrooms when students show us their fun-house mirror versions of appropriate behavior?  We brainstormed for a while, having great fun conceptualizing electronic interventions that might be used when a youngster's behavior grates on the teacher's last good nerve like #6 sandpaper.  Like we tell many of our teachers though, we had to remind ourselves to focus on promoting positive behavior too, not just penalizing inappropriate actions.  We've listed a number of imagined interventions that emanated from our temporarily giggled grey matter.  We recommend that they be read in the style of the "top 10" lists popular on late night television.

The Top 18 Ways to Prevent and Manage Inappropriate Behaviors

    ~Require pupils to wear FM unit headphones over which we play elevator musak (although this music might be considered by some people to be cruel and unusual punishment) laced with subliminal messages stating such phrases as "Stay in your seat.", " Speak politely to others.", and "Complete your work now."  Teachers could break in periodically to deliver louder messages intended to direct youngsters' actions.

   ~Play a non-stop videotape of well-behaved kids on several televisions placed strategically around the room in order to provide errant youngsters with positive role models.

  ~Require kids to wear proximity alarms to remind them to stay a prescribed distance away from each other.  If they approach another too closely, an electronic voice, similar to those installed in luxury cars bellows "Warning.  You are too close.  Back away from the classmate." while a blaring, warbling siren wails in the background.  The intensity of the stimuli would be faded over time.

  ~Hook up blood pressure cuffs and heart rate monitors to our more aggressive students in order to warn us of when they are reaching their "threshold of action".

  ~Have youngsters wear those behind-the-ear devices (the ones used by drowsy drivers to stay awake) that send out a piercing tone when the head tilts down.  This mechanism would keep students awake in classrooms where teachers think that "individualization of instruction" means giving youngsters different piles of worksheets.

  ~Distribute uni-directional "sonic ear" microphones to teachers so that they can hear what their pupils are whispering to each other in the back row.

  ~Use "clapper" devises to pause and restart desk mounted machines that automatically disseminate tokens/M&Ms/tickets while robotically praising youngsters for their good behavior.

  ~Set up hidden video cameras to stream video images to the computer of an instructor who is home sick.  That instructor could then speak into a microphone connected to the substitute teacher's earpiece, providing directions as to how to handle the various situations.  Supervising teachers could use this set-up to guide their student teachers from the comfy confines of the teachers' lounge.

   ~e-mail behavior consultants for advice while youngsters are still in the midst of their behavioral episodes. Perhaps each function key on the keyboard could be assigned a category of misbehavior in order to save time in communicating the problem to the expert.  This innovative venue would open up a lucrative new way for consultants to make money while sipping coffee at home.

  ~Use cellular phones to call a student's home as soon as that step in the hierarchy of disciplinary consequences is reached.  Now teachers no longer have to wait until after school to undertake this decades-old feared consequence.  They can go immediately to their purse or briefcase, pull out their little tele-communicators and press one of the automatic dial buttons...each one of which is set to a different student's home phone number.  When youngsters plead for mercy, teachers can leave their finger poised over the "send" button, using the Dr. Strangelovian approach of threatening to push the button if any further infractions occur.  We assume that teachers would also add significantly to their phone bills by calling parents to report effort and improvement on the part of their students.

  ~Take Polaroid photos (Are these cameras still considered to be high tech?) of misbehaving pupils and faxing them to their parents' office.  We would also hope that teachers would take lots of photos of youngsters engaged in appropriate actions.

  ~Wear "fedora cams" (video cameras hidden in hats...similar to those used by investigative news teams) to send continuous stream of images of the offending behavior to the parent's computer.  A digital image enhancer would highlight the offending behavior or gesture.  Again, we'll need to remember to send home images of youngsters "doing the right thing".

  ~Send behavioral reports home via e-mail during planning periods or before leaving the school for the day.  Teachers would warn parents to keep their password private or install fingerprint identification peripherals so that their children don't "hack in" and delete the messages...We wouldn't want students to engage in the high tech equivalent of running home to check the mail for school notices before mom and dad get there.  We're confident that teachers would remember to send home positive messages too.

  ~Use the video option on in-school computer networks so that principals can be summoned by substitute teachers to come on screen to chastise kids whenever needed.  Perhaps some classroom computers could be connected to the homes of ill teachers so that they could continue to monitor and direct the actions of their youngsters.  However, for those of us who never used a sick day unless we were well enough to enjoy it, the possibility of being "found out" is a definite drawback.  We think that we may have found a solution for this problem...claiming to be too haggard-looking to have ourselves placed on screen and sending only an audio signal, or perhaps posting a stern looking photograph.  Satellite connected notebook computers would then allow us to view our students and respond to them while stretched out on the beach blanket ("Miguel, dos margarita por favor.").  Being immersed in our favorite environments should also make it easier for teachers to recognize and respond to prosocial student behavior.

  ~Install motion sensors to alert teachers when kids get out of their seats, and laser beam perimeter alarms to keep them from sneaking out of the room when teachers aren't looking.  If youngsters do leave the area, bar coded UPC stickers attached to shirt sleeves would allow educators to determine who exited.  Meanwhile, other sensors in the hallways would cause little red bulbs to light up on the main office's map of the school's interior, informing school personnel of escapees' locations.

  ~(If the bar code scenario is not possible)  Have main office secretaries compare stilled images from hallway video cameras to the collected pictorial images in their school enrollment data bank.  This process would be similar to scenes in the "Mission Impossible" and "Enemy of the State" movies when the picture collection rapidly flashes by on the screen until a match is found, displaying that youngster's personal data.

  ~Create a virtual reality program during which goggled youngsters display recently practiced socially appropriate behavior when they are asked to join a group of ne'er-do-wells, confronted by caustic-natured teachers/administrators, or lured into bullying behavior by the mere sight of computer generated nerd.

  ~Place electronic weather stations in teachers' lounges to monitor, record, and predict changing conditions  and the phases of the moon.   These units would ensure that educators know when to use each of the ages-old meteorological excuses for behavioral blowups on the part of students.

The Bug That Never Stung

 While Virginia is well-situated for the technological future, Ellis and I had hoped that the Y2K bug would hit, shutting down computerized digital devices and the internet so that we would no longer be viewed as technical neanderthals.   Having stockpiled back issues of professional journals from past decades alongside our food and water stores, we thought we might once again be on the cutting edge of our field.  Now we analog types who are stuck in today's digital society must attempt to walk upright in cyberspace.

 We admit to not having a great deal of familiarity with all the new high tech gizmos, so perhaps we'll need to venture outside of the local publicly funded schools and colleges of New York City to directly observe how universities and schoolhouses with money to purchase technology actually make use of it.  Then we'd be better able to train our teachers for the hypothetical day when they get high-tech equipment and can create classrooms teeming with compliant, respectful "teachers' pets".  But first we dream of the day when our New York City teachers will be working in buildings where ceilings don't leak, plaster doesn't fall, paint doesn't peel, and the coal-fired furnaces are replaced by newer units capable of conducting heat to the upper floors on cold winter days.  Our teachers and kids could also make use of textbooks that have been printed within the last 20 years, decades old paper that doesn't crumble when youngsters try to write on it, and...Oops, gotta go.  Just got a call on my new cellular phone (I got a great deal on the model with the rotary dial option).

 Hello.  Big Brother Consultants.  How can we help you?  Can we can conduct a staff development workshop on educational technology?  You bet!

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