Throughout the many posts on this blog, I have mainly focused on trends and ideas in how mobile devices can be integrated into teaching and learning. I’ve stayed away from the whole discussion on the social side of mobile learning because it is so emotionally charged. I figured that by posting ideas on how mobile devices can help students learn, it would encourage, rather than discourage, readers that the mobile devices we use everyday in our mobile lives have a place in classrooms too.
However, I feel the need to speak about this social side of mobile learning after attending an Edublogs PD session where we discussed mobile learning and after reading this blog post by Scott McLeod along with the comments (especially the comment by Larry Ferlazzo). Many focused on critiques of mobile learning rather than on the benefits and I feel that I need to address some of them. I know that I am entering emotionally charges waters here as there are strong feelings on both sides of this debate but here we go. While there are many criticisms I can address, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to focus on three.
Fact: Students bully other students with and or without a cell phone
One of the strongest criticisms about introducing cell phones in classrooms is that students use the devices to bully others or to organize fights via text messaging. While there is no doubt that this occurs, there is also no doubt that it’s not the cell phone that creates this behaviour. A cell phone is a communication tool and students are using it to communicate. By banning cell phone, we don’t stop the bullying nor do we stop the negative type of communication amoung students. We just encourage them to continue their conversation is a less conspicuous way. Personally, I feel that cell phones have helped to bring these issues to the surface and I can’t help but feel that by banning the phones, we are trying the sweep the issues back under the rug again so that we don’t have to deal with them. Instead of using energy to ban cell phones, and then policing the ban, we should be teaching student how to live responsibly in the world and how to treat others with respect – basic social skills. Then, we can focus on using mobile tools for productive communication between peers. While there needs to be rules around acceptable use the devices when they are used in class, acceptable use rules is not the same as banning.
Fact: Students cheat with and or without a cell phone
This is another common criticism. Students use their devices to find answers on their internet or to text answers to friends. I don’t disagree that this occurs, but we need to find the underlying cause and the underlying cause is not the cell phone. In the days before digital technology, learning was about remembering as much as one could. This was a time when access to information was scare and expensive so students needed to learn as many facts as they possibly could in order to be able to access that information if they needed it in the future: just-in-case learning (memorize the information just in case a student needed it later). As a result, instruction revolved around information. Today, not only is access to information widely available, but it’s free as well. No longer is access to information scarce as we can access whatever we need to know from wherever we are whenever we need it. It’s just-in-time learning so to speak. Generally speaking, teaching models still revolve around information and students understand that in this environment, they need to show that they know the necessary information in order to get a good grade. As a result, they employ whatever means they can to demonstrate their understanding. Some call that cheating. I would call that being resourceful under the current models of teaching and learning. Personally, I feel it’s time to modernize teaching and learning models where the emphasis is on skill development and where information is a resource to skills attainment. Looking up an answer is something that adults do in their lives in order to help them accomplish a task. Using this framework, we should be encouraging students to create using information that they find online and through collaboration with peers. This way, we evaluate students on what they can do, not on the information they know and we eliminate information-based cheating.
Fact: Mobile devices offer access to the most recent information available
Lastly, we claim the students use information from the Internet far too much and don’t rely enough on books. We bemoan the fact that the information is riddled with false information and that students don’t know how to filter it. As a result, we encourage the use of dated information in static books. This argument is not restricted to mobile devices but applies to technology in general but as mobile devices now provide the user with access to the Internet, it applies to them as well. If we are concerned that students don’t know how to filter information on the Internet, why are we not teaching them how to filter it? The Internet is the largest database of information the world has ever seen and contains the most up-to-date information. I know for a fact that many schools still use books that refer to Pluto as a planet or atlases that still have Yugoslavia as a country or refer to the Soviet Union as if it is still in existence. Doesn’t it seem strange that we constantly encourage students to use information in books that is dated (and sometime incorrect) by the time they arrive at the school rather than teach students how to filter information from the Internet to be able to decifer legitimate information from falsehoods? What ever happened to teaching search skills that students used to be taught when it came to searching for information in a library? Why don’t we do the same for the Internet?
There are many, many more issue that need to be addressed: differentiated instruction, assistive technology, Internet filtering, etc. but addressing them now would result in a very long blog post. I guess they can be reserved for future blog posts. For now, let’s be a little more democratic in our allowance of learning tools and not ban mobile devices because they are a disruptive technology. The disruptive nature of mobile devices may actually serve to help us evolve our teaching practices for the good of student learning.