Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning

Posted: August 7, 2009 in Cell Phones in Education, edushifts, mobilelearning, rants, tools
Tags: , , , ,

Throughout the many posts on this blog, I have mainly focused on trends and ideas in how mobile devices can be CHAINSintegrated 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 web.2.0result, 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.

  1. mcluhansghost says:

    Wow! What a thoughtful, cogent analysis that debunks the standard myths about the destructive nature of mobile devices in the classroom.

    4+ (Well above the provincial standard)

  2. Jane Smith says:

    I agree with what you have posted here. Mobile devices are here to stay. We need to be proactive as educators and embrace these devices. Our students need role models and guidance on how to use these devices in ethical and constructive ways. Students will continue to bring these devices to school and use them whether they are permitted to or not. I would much rather spend my time teaching students about responsible use of mobile devices rather than enforcing rules about them.

    • Exactly Jane. As educators, do we not have a moral responsibility to educate students to not only survive, but also to thrive, in the world that they will be living, learning and working? That world currently includes mobile devices and we will see more and more of these devices used, not less.

  3. Jamie Reaburn Weir says:

    I really appreciate your rebuttal to the blogs that are criticizing mobile technology in the classroom. You are absolutely right that bullying happens with or without cell phones and in fact, I actually see it more and now there’s a cyber-trail to be followed!

    I also think it’s worthwhile to note that students use their phones all the time and if we can harness that enthusiasm, it will really lead to a richer learning environment.

    I have hope that more educators will give it a chance!

    Great post!

  4. Bill Chapman says:

    Thanks for your cogent arguments Rob. I agree completely. Hard as it may be to believe now, I remember in the late 1970s and 1980s when we (as educators) had this very same argument over the use of calculators in the classroom. My guess is that we’ll look back in 20 years and shake our heads over this “debate” too. Once people who’ve always had cellphones and iPods in their lives are teachers and administrators, there will be no more debate.

    • Greg Garner says:

      Let me first preface this by saying that while I do remember a time without a cell phone, I’m only 22 and can’t imagine functioning well without one… Last school year I had a regular ol’ LG Scoop. No Internet, no data plan, nothing. I figured that was ok since I wouldn’t be needing anything near as powerful as the Blackjack I had before since I was starting my first year of teaching.

      However, I quickly learned that mobile technology in the classroom is possibly the greatest asset I had as a teacher because it allowed me to teach in a more relevant way. When my students were able to use their phones and ipods (8th graders, mind you) in an educational setting, it completely changed the way they viewed education. Unfortunately, that is still frowned upon and a blatant breach of our district’s policy, but I can’t tell you how many students were excited about coming to my class just because we openly engaged the world around us through technology.

  5. You’ve hit three nails on the head with this post, Rob.

    Just as we trust students with pencils and scissors (we DO, don’t we?), we need to create an environment where we can trust them with newer tools, too. Cell phones, iPods, notebook computers, and other devices which allow students to research, share, communicate, and learn MUST become an accepted and valued part of the classroom.

    Blocking and denying access to these modern tools today would be like blocking access to pencils and textbooks and slates decades ago.

  6. […] the same constraints as K12, so issues like cyber-bullying aren’t so relevant for adults. But this blogpost by Rob De Lorenzo made me think, again, about how our ways of learning are evolving so fast, and […]

  7. […] regularly, and Marian’s post made me think about the subject of cheating.  She refers to a post by Rob De Lorenzo and says: Why do we call looking up information “cheating?” We look […]

  8. zipcodes says:

    It’s ROCK, dude..!! Good job

  9. […] August 21, 2009 — Rob De Lorenzo A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning“.  In that blog post, I attempted to debunk three of the most common critiques educators and […]

  10. […] Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning | The Mobile Learner | Rob De Lorenzo | 7 August 2009 […]

  11. sophievdw says:

    This is a great post, Rob and I like how completely you’ve debunked some of the myths around mobile learning that my co-workers sometimes throw around.


  12. […] Lorenzo is addressing some myths or critiques surrounding Mobile learners in two post (here is the first and here the […]

  13. […] of thoughtful writing about mobile learning. His two most recent ones that are must-reads are Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning and Addressing Some More Critiques of Mobile […]

  14. […] regarder en lisant les considérations de Rob de Lorenzo, enseignant, blogger très pour le mlearning et le téléphone à […]

  15. Lawrence Nelson says:

    I’m a naysayer on this one. As a computer science teacher I’m no technophobe, but I’d love for cellphones to be highly restricted in my school. The instantaneous nature of the medium make it far too easy to launch abuse the moment someone has your ire. No need for cool-off time. No need to face the target of your abuse. And unless it blows up into an old fashioned fist fight, it will go on undetected. Add in the internet apps and video capabilities of your average phone and you’ve got something that doesn’t belong in the school except under strict circumstances.

    Take the tech side out of the equation: would you allow a student to walk into a bathroom with a polaroid camera? Would you allow students to pass paper notes to each other in class?

    Yes, bullying and cheating have always occurred and cellphones are not to blame, but cellphones make it far too easy to go undetected. Not too long ago, police caught students making bomb threats at a school in our district. They were only caught because they made the threats from a public phone at a mall. Students making similar threats via cellphone have yet to be caught. It’s just too easy.

    Meanwhile, parents and school admin are reluctant to crack down on the technology itself for fear of seeming old-fashioned and anti-tech. They echo the defeatist argument that “you can’t stop progress”. I think you can guide progress in a direction that makes sense.

    Finally, the comment on calculators puts me over the edge. The calculator has single-handedly destroyed the ability of the average student to do extremely basic math, along the lines of “what’s three plus zero”. I have grade 12 college-bound students that would struggle with this question without technology to guide them. Math teachers deal with the legacy of the calculator every day. If an administrator has the guts to try a calculator-free math program in a cell-free school, I’d like to hear about it. That’s what I consider forward thinking.

  16. […] see the blog of Rob De Lorenz: Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning […]

  17. […] see the blog of Rob De Lorenz: Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning […]

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