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 education stakeholder have on the concept of mobile learning: students use mobile devices (such as cell phones) to bully other students, students use mobile devices to cheat, students use the Internet far too much and don’t know how to filter high quality information from biases, unsubstantiated opinions and falsehoods. While the above are likely the most common critiques of mobile learning, there are many more critiques and other issues that need to be addressed. In this blog post, I will continue addressing these critiques and issues by looking at the root causes of the perceived problems with using allowing mobile devices into the classroom.
Fact: Mobile Devices Are not the Only Things that Distract Students
Many argue that mobile devices are far too distracting as students focus using their devices for sending SMS messages or surfing the internet during lessons rather than pay attention to lessons. I can attest to this first hand as I myself am guilty of accessing my mobile device when I am attending conference presentations or other instructional settings. The ultimate question is why one is doing what one is doing? In my case, I often use my mobile device to communicate the ideas that I am learning to others in my online PLN through services such as Twitter but the true underlying cause of such distraction is lack of engagement. What mobile devices are doing is amplifying a reality. As this reality comes to our direct attention through mobile devices, we point to these devices as being the true cause of the reality when it is not. Allow me to be more specific. If a student is in a classroom and is not engaged with the lesson, they will find other things to do to engage themselves. This is not a new phenomena. Countless educators around the world and throughout the years have spoken to countless parents about the fact that their child is not paying attention in class. They may be doodling, day dreaming, making paper airplanes, bothering other students, sleeping misbehaving, etc. We’ve always blamed the students and it is true that they must be held accountable for their actions. However, I think that we educators also have to take some responsibility to make lessons engaging for our students in ways that THEY find engaging. Just because we believe that our lessons and the delivery of our lessons are engaging, it doesn’t mean they are engaging to our students. So what do students do when they are not engaged? They do other things to engage themselves whether it’s the actions I mentioned above or use their mobile devices. Mobile devices are so engaging in fact, that we should harness that engagement instead of trying to squash it. Do you think what I’m saying is rubbish? Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourselves. Begin designing lesson around the use of a mobile device using any of the ideas mentioned in this blog and watch to see whether or not your students are still using the devices inappropriately or behaving inappropriately.
Fact: Mobile Devices can be used as Assistive Technology and Used to Differentiate Instruction
Traditionally in education, resources were scarce. When information sharing was difficult, access to information expensive and tools to support students with special needs oppressively expensive, educators used whatever they could to manage. They used dated textbooks, accessed world maps on atlases that were often more like historical documents than geographical ones, and addressed individualized student needs with a little more personal attention. Technology has changed our world significantly. Information sharing is now easy, access to information is cheap and students already bring devices with them that can help support their individual needs. Despite this new reality of abundance, we in the education system still run our classrooms using the ideology of scarcity. By abundance, I don’t mean abundance of traditional resources, but an adequate supply of certain physical resources that allows easy and cheap access to an abundant of information and places to collaborate and communicate. For example, how many computers do you have in your classroom that are either underutilized or never turned on? Students can be using those machines throughout the day everyday to research, communicate, post ideas and create. You don’t need a computer lab with 30 minutes/per week. Even one – to – three computers over the span of 6-7 hours per day can be utilized to engage students and teach them online skills. Another example is the mobile devices that students bring with them. Why not allow students to use their iPod to listen to an audiobook or to use their cell phone to either access the web or to access their productivity tools? Devices that students bring with them everyday, with the right instruction and direction, can be used as assistive technology to help differentiate instruction which ultimately saves the school and the system massive amounts of money that can be used to further outfit schools with more and updated technology.
Fact: Using Mobile Devices Prepares Students for the Real World
As educators, we are called to educate students, develop their skills and to communicate ideas all for personal development and preparation for the real world. We proudly listen to parents talk about how they want their children to some day be lawyers, doctors, journalists, scientists or successful in business enterprise. We want to be a part of that development and help children live their dreams and become that successful professional. Well, in today’s world, these professionals all use mobile devices to assist them in their work. In some cases, as in journalism, having access to, and using, a mobile device actually gives them a competitive advantage as they have access to resources and an audience that those without mobile devices to not. Yes, even doctors use mobile devices to have reference information handy or to print out prescriptions using PDA’s. So if mobile communication is so important to a successful lawyer or business person, if a scientist’s work is based on technology tools and if mobile technology offers competitive workplace advantages, doesn’t it follow that we should be allowing students to use these devices while they learn and to develop the competitive advantages they need when they enter the ‘real world’?
Thus, it may be time for the system, both at the top administrative levels and from the grassroots, to begin shifting our resources and our thinking, away from the idea that information and access to that information is scarce to one of abundance. This is especially the case today as more and more children are bringing in the technology tools they need. The real world that they will enter will not be like the current world that they are growing up in. Abundance and flux will be the more common themes than scarcity and stability.