When I’m looking for updates on current events, whether it be news related, the latest sport scores or entertainment, I reach for my iPhone. When I’m at work during the sweltering heat or during the frigid cold months and I need a weather update to inform my decision on indoor or outdoor recess, I reach for my iPhone. When I need to communicate with family, friends or colleagues, I often reach for my iPhone.
None of what I stated above is unique but it is extremely revolutionary. The shift from old mediums of information dissemination and attainment to mobile technology has been lightning fast. As a young student in elementary school, I went to the television or newspaper if I wanted news. In fact, I still have old newspapers from the first days of the 1991 invasion of Iraq. I would go to the same mediums for weather related information and long distance communication was always by telephone. I remember when being able to use 3-way calling to have a distance group conversation was revolutionary. If we go back one more generation, my parents grew up only with newspapers and only when they became adults did early telephones and televisions begin making their way in people’s homes. Where we once had to own various devices to communicate, now we just need one – a smart phone. On it, we can make calls, watch video, engage in group conversations, access information and current events and much, much more.
This shift to accessibility of information and communication from anywhere has changed our society in a big way. For example, our physical location can be constantly tracked where once this was not possible. This change can be beneficial when trying to connect with others while also creating new issues around privacy. Where once we had to travel to physical centres (i.e. a library) to access books and other mediums of information, we now can access the entire library of the world from wherever we are from our mobile device. This is beneficial as information is available immediately when we need it but may be creating problems with people’s attention spans, memory and note-taking skills. Where we once could only really interact with people in our own physical proximity, we can now interact with anyone in the world, whether we have actually met them face-to-face or not. We can interact and converse on topics of interest from wherever we find ourselves to whoever finds themselves on the same social media platform both synchronously and asynchronously. The flip side of this is that we may be spending so much time interacting with people at a distance that we may actually be hurting our relationships with those near us. This is an irony of sorts; we may become more anti-social the more we interact with people online though our mobile devices.
All of this has definite implications for kids in schools as the societal changes affecting adults affect kids too. They too will want to search for information online from their mobile devices when they need it (i.e. during a test). They too will be facing issues of anti-social behaviour as they spend more and more time online on social media sites. They too want to check in to places online at the risk of being followed by a predator.
In essence, our patterns of behaviour have changed as our society has become more mobile. Here is another example of how our technology changes our behaviour and modes of living. Our social institutions, including our schools, have to ensure that policies and practices evolve to better address needs within these new social realities. We have seen changes in schools in a number of ways: updates to Acceptable Use Policies to better reflect the realities of greater access to information and easier dissemination, bring your our device (BYOD) initiatives, new forms of distance learning, etc. The most important, and most difficult, change required is a change in mindset about technology use in schools. As we continue to journey through this evolution to mobility, we need to ensure that our focus is not on subverting technology students use, but on leveraging it to support their learning. We must always keep our greatest goal in mind – student learning and student success. This is our purpose for being. Technology has always improved our lives. Mobile technology can be used to improve our teaching and learning. All that is required is a desire to make that happen – everything else will follow.