An open letter to students of the present and future

Advice from teacher to student on technology, privacy, and why turning off that smartphone is a good idea.

Dear Student,

Yes, I want your attention for a moment. I know your new smartphone is shiny and the YouTube video with the talking husky absorbing, but give me a moment of your time. Let's talk a little about how technology is going affect your life.

We're among a period of change. We ask you to take lessons in touch typing, to conduct research online (but go further than Wikipedia, okay?), and work with your classmates in PowerPoint, as we understand that learning how to operate a computer and write emails are likely to be important skills in your future workplace.  

Our job is to make sure you have basic, useful skills which will serve you well -- as far as exam boards, paperwork and bureaucracy allows -- but we also know, however, that you're likely to know more about this than we do. 

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One thing you might not realize, however, is that by using smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and email, you're creating a digital persona -- one that will likely follow you in your working career.

You're what we call a digital native. You've grown up in a world not full of clunky cassette players, tamagotchis or the keening wail of dial-up Internet, but high-speed broadband, smartphones, tablets and the Web. While you may chuckle at our ham-fisted use of a tablet, we do have something behind us you lack for now -- experience in the working world.

It may seem a good idea to air your dirty laundry on Facebook, moan about your teachers or send a half-naked picture to that person you like in Class C now, but here's a few things you should know. 

We can howl all we like about privacy, data collection and floods of naked celebrity pictures appearing online -- but it boils down to one thing: don't put anything online you're going to be ashamed of later. An errant tweet which could be misconstrued as offensive, the Facebook photo of you being pulled out of a dumpster drunk or the post criticizing your boss -- if you're not happy with grandmother seeing it, leave it off. Failing that, whack up the privacy settings to max. 

If I can find it, your future boss -- and the way to fill your wallet -- can too, and looking unprofessional will get you nowhere. Keep in mind too that your future colleagues might want to join your network, so keep it clean, or create a secondary one to keep them happy if need be. A hint? Most of us teachers use fake names as we know you'll be hunting online for us. 

Another thing: it's easier to send an email, post a Facebook message or send a trolling tweet than it would be to abuse you face-to-face. Sadly, cyberbullying isn't going to go away anytime soon, and while people can be traced, it's not easy for the average person. As the Brits say, stiff upper lip, okay? Tell your parents, block them, do whatever you need -- but remember that the message is sent only by a spectre, and ask whether that person would do the same in the physical world. The Internet is a great thing: full of resources, communities and information. But it can also bring the worst out in people and has even caused students like you to commit suicide over cyberbullying. If something's going on, it's up to you to let us know. 

Don't retaliate -- it will only escalate. Cyberbullies may do it only for the attention; because they have nothing more interesting to do, or are simply spiteful creatures. Try not to take it to heart, and if possible, ignore them completely. 

The Internet does allow good relationships to be forged too. However, with such a vast social network at our fingertips, it's easy to get sucked in and stop paying attention to the waking world. I've seen the looks of disbelief I get in class when I ask for smartphones to be turned off. As a teacher, I can tell you that beeps, notifications and the not-so-subtle gazes into your lap drive us crazy. If there's only one thing we can teach you at school, it is social skills -- and we need to get you to look at us. If you can't communicate effectively, you can't learn.

The world is not going to crumble if you don't check Facebook for an hour, but unless you listen to what i'm saying, you're not going to pass that test. 

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Another thing: as an employer, you're no good to me if you get top marks in your computer science degree, but don't look me in the eye and shake my hand with confidence at interview. 

Eye contact is important. There's nothing more rude, in my eyes, than someone engrossed in their smartphone at a table at dinner. Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but they are more than that. The Web can be a great place to forge connections, but we aren't avatars -- you need to have social skills behind you to make it in this world. Looking at someone can make all the difference. You can disguise much across the Internet, but when you're in a room with a potential future employer, you need to come across as friendly and approachable. Smile with them.

Be safe, and be careful with your accounts. I remember the first time an account of mine was hijacked -- as a trusting 10-year-old, I used to be a continual lurker on the digital pet site Neopets. You make friends easily enough, and while talking to one such player, we exchanged personal details -- one being my father's name -- having forgot this was my security question. Such innocence, and such devastation when I was locked out of that account.

However, today, your email account could be linked to your bank account. You might only have a few pounds in there at present, but one day, you'll understand how important it is to keep these windows to your life firmly locked. 

Finally, turn your phone off. I know it's important that you have the latest shiny brick, access to Facebook and the chance to Instagram those epic cupcakes, but leave it off every once in a while. You're living in a world where it's going to be harder and harder to switch off, so take the opportunity while you can.

Read on: In the world of ed-tech

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