Just imagine it. Students are outside of their classroom on a field study. During the field study, they see something that really captures the essence of what they are learning. It could be a leaf on a plant during a biology field study. It could be the design of a building during an architecture/visual arts field study. It could be an object of visual inspiration for a poem or digital story. It could be the ideas of a expert during a museum or art gallery visit. How do students capture that moment, that object, that learning opportunity?
Just imagine a science class where students are conducting experiments. How do they capture their observations? Imagine students conducting a brief interview for a school news story or for an article for a journalism course. How do they capture the content of their interview?
For students, the essence of learning is not only to understand the workings of the world, but to also demonstrate their learning through some activity or the creation of some product. Often educators encourage students to use a variety of evidence in a variety of formats. We encourage students to include dialogue or illustrations in their work and not to necessarily rely only on written expression. Then, we limit the tools that they can use to accomplish their tasks.
Even today’s basic cell phones come with cameras and voice recorders with some models even having decent video recorders. Students can use the multimedia tools already built into today’s cell phone to gather a variety of evidence in a variety of forms for their school work.
The beauty of allowing students to use these digital tools is that an educator is not dictating how learning is to happen or specifying too strictly how students are to demonstrate their learning. If a student doesn’t have a cell phone or doesn’t want to use it, that’s OK. They can record their observations using more traditional mediums. If a student does have a cell phone and wants to leverage it’s multimedia features to demonstrate their learning, then that’s OK too.
This is the essence of differentiated instruction.
We’ve talked a lot in academic circles about the varying needs of kids. First there was talk of multiple intelligences and learning styles. Now there is talk of differentiated instruction and universal design for learning. At the centre of all this talk is a need to change teaching environments and teaching styles to allow students to be more creative and to use the appropriate tools they need to help them learn. Today’s cell phones are no longer just talk and text devices. They can also be used as simple voice recorders, cameras and camcorders that can be used to capture environmental evidence and evidence of learning when it happens and where it happens. With these digital devices, students can ‘capture the moment’ so to speak. All of this at no extra cost to student or parent as the choice to use the devices left to the student and not the teacher and using the multimedia features on the phone do not require expensive data plans as today’s cell phones can all be connected to a computer for the purposes of downloading the content that the student created or captured.
Therefore, as we move forward on our classroom designs to create more inclusive environments and a increased student choice in learning, let not forget the power technology has to enable those who learn differently to learn and express their learning in new and unique ways that technology generally, and cell phones specifically, can allow.