Douglas Crets


Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Learning Can’t Be Turned Off, so Incorporate Mobile into Pedagogy

Are administrative rules that ban the use of mobile phones harming the social and academic interests of the children who want to use them in school? What are they doing to the future of students who get most of their daily information from a mobile phone, and who feel they need phones to make their lives more efficient? I normally defend the use of mobile phones, because I believe that technology tools make our lives easier, and because I believe it’s perfectly natural to use tools to make life more meaningful.

When I read comments from a student on Quora about how mobile phone rules actually inhibit his learning, it makes me crazy. Using a phone is about as second nature as being able to ride a bike to kids. Yet, rules that govern their use in school seem to be built around a paranoid assumption that students get distracted easily because they find school boring. They would rather learn and talk to their friends. Wait a minute!

mobile phones learning ed tech

image courtesy of Brandon Hall

I don’t know if the student who writes in Quora about his school’s inane anti-mobile phone rules is really a student, but he makes some great points about how anti-phone rules distract him and keep him from learning. Read here what student Gavin Brown says about phones:

In my English class, I am not allowed to read my copies of literary classics such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Treasure Island. The reason: they are on my phone since I downloaded them for free as they are works in the public domain. True, I could get these books for free from a library. Limitations with that are: I can not annotate or search library copies easily, and it can be a bit of an inconvenience to carry around yet another book.

My school spent $10/student on planners, which are not used by 90% of the students. They are old, clunky, and inefficient in my opinion. For me, recording assignments on my phone is much easier and better. That is true for a large number of other students as well.

Cell phones are banned because people believe that, if allowed, people would be text messaging constantly, updating Facebook, and playing games. However, this activity still goes on, even with the ban. I do not think it would get much worse if cell phones were allowed. It may even get better.

And then a teacher named David Read chimes in with what I think is a great point:

It seems to me that it isn’t a question of whether or not mobile phones are useful for learning, everything is ‘useful’ for learning, we are always learning, learning can’t be turned off.

The question is more of pedagogy and of getting kids to learn the things we want them to. Cell phones are not useful in school when pedagogy does not use them to support the kind of learning wanted. While the kids in a class are ‘distracted’ by their phones, they are learning an enormous amount, just not what the teacher intends. The easy answer is to ban the technology, the more difficult but far richer answer is to develop pedagogy that exploits it.

Kids fluency and engagement with mobile devices should be viewed as a wonderful resource and indication of their engagement in things they want to learn, not as a distraction that has to be silenced to make lessons easier.


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4 Responses

  1. Dean groom says:

    Ive been at a higher edu, distance conference this week (deHub) in Sydney. The message was – design for mobile, design it now. Convergence makes mobile formats and designs the imperarive if you want to retain or attract students. 1.6 billion mobiles — and western countries assume wrongly, they are the mobile innovators. Thanks for the post, facinating.

  2. Douglas Crets says:

    You’re welcome for the post, Dean. After living in Asia Pacific for six years, I came away knowing that mobile phone use is not only omnipresent in places like Korea, Hong Kong and Greater China, it’s one of the easiest and sometimes only way a person can get certain types of information.

    I remember my culture shock when I started working in the United States and heard so many people complaining in the offices here about mobile phone usage.

    Once, in an airport, I remember looking up at an advertisement for chewing gum and seeing phrases like “The real IM.” It was two people talking face to face in a pastoral setting with no technology, no wires, and nothing resembling modernity. It was as if America as a culture cringes at the use of devices to connect people.

  3. Michael G. says:

    Excellent post. I am reluctant to embrace mobile phones in the classroom. I think they will always be more of a distraction than anything else.

  4. Douglas Crets says:

    Well, it’s like the quora user said, and like what Dean alludes to: if you make the mobile part of the pedagogy, then you are accomplishing your goals with the mobile, and it’s not distraction. I think there is a current barrier in that right now, teacher decisions about mobile or any other kind of tech are superseded by regulations that naturally inhibit their use. The regulations create the behavior. If regulations treat mobiles as distractions, that is how they will be seen. If they are seen as teaching tools, that is how they will be used. It’s not like the appearance of the mobile absolves the teacher of the need to teach, right? Nor does the presence of a tech tool eliminate all that has come before it, or all that is expected of the classroom and the students.

    It would be different in church, for example, where there is absolutely no need to interact with the parish in this way. Church is not about teaching, it’s about telling. Teaching is about teaching, which in itself is interaction. And interaction is done really well on a mobile.

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