Skip to main content

How teens are chatting right under your nose

By utilising collaborative writing software, they are chatting when they look like they are working...

Teachers in England are among the most dissatisfied, research shows

By utilising collaborative writing software, they are chatting when they look like they are working...

Taylor Lorenz has gone and ruined it all. For some time now, teens have apparently been circumventing the parental controls on their home internet and making a mockery of silence rules in classrooms. 

Lorenz got wind of it, wrote it up for The Atlantic, and now everyone knows: Google Docs is the new Whatsapp, Snapchat or any other messaging app your firewall or parent-monitoring seeks to outlaw. 

Quick read: Have we forgotten to teach pupils how to learn?

Quick listen: Teach metacognition to boost exam results

Want more articles like this? Join our Tes Teaching and Learning Facebook group 

What she discovered was that canny teens are using the collaborative word processing software to talk to each other when they are supposed to be working, either in the classroom or at home.

Sharing the doc with friends, each participant adopts a different font, and from the outside it just looks like a series of paragraphs. Unless you look closer, it seems to be a lot of productive, if rather eccentrically presented, work. 

Edtech kickback

Lorenz cites the facilitator as being the rise of laptops in schools and the proliferation of mobiles with collaborative writing software coming as standard (Android phones come with Google’s suite of apps, for example).

Even where Google Docs is not available, she says, teens just find other collaborative writing software tools to utilise. 

No doubt some will seize on this as a reason to ban edtech in the classroom. 

Look! We cannot trust them with this technology! Look how they mock us! 

But, really, such a response would be akin to banning pens because someone drew a penis on the back of their textbook. And then banning textbooks, too. 

Creative work

I’m not a teacher, but all this story makes me want to do is stand and applaud these ingenious teens. They saw the loophole, they exploited it, fair play to them. 

It’s our job to stop them doing this stuff; their job is to test the boundaries to see if we are doing it properly. 

And what creativity! 

A few weeks ago, we interviewed professor Stellan Ohlsson, who is one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and its role in education. He describes creativity as “ignoring, overruling or suppressing prior concepts and actually attack[ing] the problem by looking at it in another way”.

I would say that is a big "tick" for teens in this case. 

So let’s let them have their moment. Let’s applaud them. 

And then let’s take a closer look at their Google Docs to see if they really are writing about the imagery in war poetry or instead discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones in an array of different fonts. 

Jon Severs is commissioning editor at Tes

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you