Reorienting Ourselves

I borrowed the title of this post from Marc Prensky’s latest book, “Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning”. Reorienting ourselves refers to the section on cell phones in education. Yes, I have been a proponent for traditional handhelds, Palm and Pocket PC devices, specifically. However, I am now rethinking what we are missing by not using cell phones in education. Here is a thought provoking passage from Prensky’s book about providing our students with mobile or handheld devices for learning…

A number of researchers are experimenting with mobile devices for learning — but they typically use PDAs, not cell phones. The former are often donated by manufacturers eager to find a new market for their devices.
There are fewer than 50 million PDAs in the world but more than 1.5 billion cell phones. Of course PDA-based research will be useful, but we will not be on the right track until educators begin thinking of using the computing and communication device currently in the students’ pockets to support learning.

Inevitably…

…students are far ahead of their teachers on this. The first “educational” use students implemented for their cell phone was retreiving information on-demand during exams. Educators, of course, refer to this as “cheating.” They might better serve their students by redefining open book testing as an open-phone testing, for example, and by encouraging, rather than quashing, student innovation in this and other areas.

Prensky continues by stating that he is against cheating in schools. I don’t think I have to write that I am against cheating as well (but I did). I am for the celebration of the innovation that many students display in their schooling. Sadly, for the most part this innovation goes unnoticed by teachers, administrators and parents alike. Much of the argument against cell phones has been between distraction and safety. In June, the New York City Council banned cell phones in schools claiming they are a distraction to learning. Here’s what I got…

  1. NYPD officers are searching for cell phones in lockers – is this a productive use of tax dollars?
  2. 3000+ cell phones confiscated – That’s 3000 computers that are being taken out of schools.
  3. Students spending up to 4 hours traveling to and from school – Imagine these students on the subway train listening to lectures, podcasts, viewing videos or text messaging their responses to prompts or polls from teachers all related to school work on these commutes!
  4. No mention of cell phones for learning – If cell phones were welcomed into the school and the classroom as an additional tool to use for learning there might be, dare I say, more interest in student learning.

I think that what interests me most of all with cell phone use, and lack thereof in education, is the ubiquitousness of the cell phone. There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world. In other countries, the cell phone out sells the desktop computer, not so in the “innovative and creative” USA. Let me wrap this up with another quote from Prensky’s book relating to new norms and ethics around emerging technologies:

Some people can remember how rapidly, in the 1970’s, the norm went from “It’s rude to have an answering machine” to “It’s rude not to have an answering machine,” or how quickly the world switched their search engine from Yahoo to Google.

As educators, we all can agree that learning happens all the time. So,
I wonder, why is it that when we teach we confine it to a building and the just
6.5 hours per day? Believe it or not our students are wondering as well.

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