Off to camp?

I was listening to the CBC Metro Morning radio broadcast one day last week on the way into work. The topic that morning was ‘Camping & Technology’ – that is, sending kids of to summer camp for a week or two. Although I did not hear the entire show, it seemed that the discussion centred around a couple of main points.

  1. Should the kids have technology at a camp session?
  2. Needs/expectations: parent & student/child perspectives

I found the discussion quite interesting. The camp facilitators were focused on delivering face to face activities, which in turn fostered relationship & team building and problem solving skills among the children. There is no argument from me regarding the need for this.  The camp facilitators had taken the stance – keep the technology (cell phones, smart phones, mp3 players (iPods etc.)) out of the camp environment. On the other side of the coin, a number of the parents had expressed concern about this because removing the technology also removed their ability to communicate with their child/children – something they valued and wanted. Now, hold this thought.

In a sense, there are two polarized approaches here: keep the technology out because we don’t want to deal with it or allow it. This example of the  polarization around the use of handheld technology is really no different than the situation in many schools around the globe: keep it out because we don’t want to deal with it v.s. bring it, and use it as part of the learning process where appropriate.

It seems to me that the answer is not in maintaining these polarized view points, but looking at things from a Digital Citizenship and Character Development point of view. Embrace the challenge of finding that middle ground that allows the use of technology in suitable ways, whether it is camp or school. The Digital Citizenship approach allows for some discussion around appropriate use, meaning context and timing etc.

Back to the camp debate – From my point of view, the ‘solution’ seems obvious. Allow the students to bring the technology and have that digital citizenship discussion around appropriate use and expectations for the camp environment. A child should be able to:

  • have a great camp experience which includes the F2F focus
  • maintain contract with their parents at certain times of the day (not in an interruptive manner)
  • share the experience online with family and friends

I hope a useful compromise is achieved. Happy camping.

~ Mark

7 thoughts on “Off to camp?”

  1. As much as I’m a champion of technology in all it’s forms and uses I think I have to come down on the “less is more” side of this one. Kids have been going to camp for years without having instant contact with their parents. That’s part of the learning experience, being able to survive without Mom & Dad in a setting that promotes independence and self esteem. If you have to validate the experience by texting Mom every half hour with your progress then the point is lost. Sure, bring the cell phone for emergencies. No problem there. But leave it in the cabin until it’s needed. Go outside and enjoy the camp experience. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go put movies on my 2TB hard drive for the cottage.

  2. My nephew is an LIT at a well-known and well-respected Ontario camp. On Saturday, the camp turn-around day, three LITs were sent home, not to return.

    Here’s what happened: at the beginning of the summer LITs (who are all around 15-16 years old, going into grade 11) were told they were allowed technology and they were to use it during down-time, rest periods and so on. Staff realized that many kids were abusing the privilege, especially using their cell phones to text kids who weren’t at camp. It was getting disruptive. So they got the kids together, had a meeting, and asked for all the technology to be handed in, telling them they could have it on days/nights off, just come to the office and ask for it. My nephew only has an iPod, my old one actually, but he loves his music. However, he loves the camp activities more, so he surrendered it with his cabin-mates. I guess three girls chose to keep their cell phones and were caught texting on them. They packed their bags on Saturday, and are now at home.

    Honestly, I think the camp handled things quite well. First of all, they had a very reasonable policy, and counted on the kids to be honourable in their use. (Now, here’s where we as educators still have a LOT of work to do! Some just don’t get it.) Then, when things weren’t going well, they offered a solution that still allowed the LITs to be able to have their technology at certain times. I am quite frankly pleased that they took a hard-core stand and sent those girls home, mostly because the girls were deceitful. There were a lot of tears, let me tell you.

    This issue is a very timely one, and impacts on my classroom directly. I am looking forward to starting a new school year and working in an even more focussed manner on issues of digital citizenship. Despite having a very clear and reasonable policy for the use of our class iPods (which was written with the students), several students seemed to not be able to control their impulse to use their device at inappropriate times. I guess this will always happen, and we, as educators, need to keep this in mind, and remember that teaching digital citizenship is worth the effort.

    Maybe in several years, the sort of situation that happened at my nephew’s camp will be a thing of the past because we are raising a new generation of digital citizens.

    Thanks for your take on this timely issue, Mark!


    1. Thanks for your reply Kim. I do think my suggested approach would have worked. Getting buy in and exercising impulse controls are certainly 2 key aspects for success. Sean raised an excellent point in his subsequent reply too – this is not just about camp – this is one’s ability to adhere to different sets of rules/expectations in different situations. Maybe this is the core issue as it impacts work, school, family time, activity time (sports, arts, clubs etc.), volunteer time, social settings etc. In my mind, this all speaks to the need to ‘go there’, and approach things from a Digital Citizenship point of view.

      ~ Mark

  3. So the next time I’m holding a meeting and someone like a superintendent or senior manager has his hands under the table while he/she texts away I can send them home? Sweet. I’m just saying that this kind of problem doesn’t just extend to kids on the job. I’m really not sure it’s a firing offense either. Camp will certainly be more disrupted by the lack of staff. Still, rules are rules and it’s nice to see actual consequences invoked on those who don’t follow the rules. Now if we could have that kind of power in the classrooms like back in the day.

    1. If suitable use is part of digital citizenship, we should all be doing our bit to walk the walk and talk the talk to role model for effective use. Thanks for your comments and insights Sean.

      ~ Mark

  4. I agree about the digital citizenship limits and expectations. Unfortunately, the technology seems to be out pacing our ability to effectively set and communicate those new boundaries, or to even follow them ourselves as role models. I only need to look back to the RUSH concert I went to on Saturday night. There was one of the best trio of musicians right in front of us and I was surrounded by people who seemed hell bent on experiencing the night through the digital display on their cameras and (I assume) later on that night on their computers and tv’s. Fair enough, I guess. To each his own. However, I found the presence of five or so glowing screens around me all the time somewhat distracting. I have no problem with someone taking a few memory shots and I took some myself but I just don’t see the need to document the whole evening like that. Maybe I’m showing my age and I’m trying not to be a grumpy old man but something like summer camp or a rock concert should be savored in real time and those pictures you took (when it was appropriate) should be enough to bring back the memories in your mind’s eye. Again, I don’t know if it’s an age thing because I seemed to be the only one bothered by all the cameras and camera phones at work the other night. Maybe there’s a new social code being written and I’m just holding onto old values because they’re what I know? It’s certainly food for thought for those of us who are supposed to have some of the answers. One thing I’ve noticed though is that it’s not always the kids who are asking the questions about this stuff. Rarely ever, actually. Interesting……

    1. You raise an important point here Sean – our ability (or lack thereof) to establish suitable boundaries, communicate them and educate people about them (Digital Citizenship). And yes, perhaps some of this is establishing a new social code. The marriage of these ideas is the ‘acceptable’ zone, if I can put it that way. Perhaps this underlines the importance of early education supported by the school systems as part of the educational process. Thanks for sharing your insights!

      ~ Mark

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