I was reminded in a recent #Edchat that there once was a time when calculators were not allowed to be brought to class. I remember math teachers in a building I worked in during the 70’s. Teachers said that, if for some reason all of the batteries in the world died at once, kids would need to be able to do math without calculators. Dead batteries means dead calculators. I was only an English teacher, so even though that scenario sounded a bit beyond reality, I did not question the Math people, who convincingly spun that tale, after all Math teachers are always so factual.
After years of continuous battery success, as well as outright battery evolution, we have taken a great chance with a dependence on calculators in education. Math teachers have developed curriculum around the use of calculators. Today, they are required for most math classes. Parents cringe at the cost as calculators appear on items to be purchased for class supplies lists. Many districts supply them to their students. In this instance this tool of technology was successfully integrated into education.
The obvious connection now would be for me to jump to the Mobile learning Device. You may know it as the Cell Phone or Smartphone; however, I am not yet ready to go there. Technology is developing at a pace faster than we are able to absorb into our education system. Teachers have a need to fully understand something before they incorporate it into what they teach. This requires professional Development. Districts provide PD, but it takes time to put it together. It then requires time to fit it into the busy schedule of teachers. Unfortunately, by the time the PD is put together and workshop sessions are worked into teachers’ schedules the technology may no longer be relevant. Since our students are more comfortable with technology and less encumbered for a need to fully understand technology before engaging it, they move forward with its use, leaving their teachers behind. At this point educators are being affected by the technology as opposed to controlling the technology to their advantage.
If we believe the goal of education is to prepare our students for future employment, then we need to ask what future employers are looking for. Many employers need their employees to be able to access technology to acquire information, collaborate with others, create projects to meet a need, and communicate that out to others, either locally or globally. All of this requires the use of technology. Many of the tools which enable people to do this are Web 2.0 tools. They are free for the most part, and they are continuing to be developed in vast numbers.
It would stand to reason, that if employers are looking for perspective employees to be able to acquire information, create content, communicate content, and have a global perspective, we as educators, should be teaching those skills. Of course this would necessitate the teacher’s awareness of the technological tools necessary for students to utilize these skills in a way that future employers would require. That would require utilizing whatever technology tools that are considered mainstream at that time. Since that may change year to year, or every six months, teachers need to teach the concepts that would apply to any tool of choice and not get hung up on specific applications. None of this requires an intricate knowledge of applications by the teacher. It does require knowledge of what applications have to offer in general terms. Students, with guidance, will be able to acquire knowledge of the application through exploration. This is a skill we need to develop with our students in the interest of Life-Long Learning.
And now I have arrived at a point in this post for the cell phone discussion. As the Calculator was once banned, so is the cell phone in many schools. We need to consider cell phones not as phones, but rather Mobile Learning Devices with phone and texting capabilities. These devices are more powerful than the devices used to send men to the moon. Why would we, as educators, not want to utilize this tool for education? I know students are distracted with texting and gaming. They don’t use this device for research. Students engage their phones and not the lesson.
Have kids ever been taught how this device should be used for learning? Mobile learning devices have surpassed the desktop computer as the number one device for accessing the internet. That fact should be meaningful to educators. This tool, however, is viewed by many educators as a distraction. I will not ask why a student would be more engaged with the cell phone than the lesson delivered by the teacher. I will say that the misuse or abuse of cell phones is a behavior problem. It need s to be addressed in a discipline policy and not a ban policy. If we are not teaching the proper use and protocols for these devices, where will these kids learn them? We are leaving them to “learn from the streets”.
We cannot hold kids responsible for the appropriate use of this tool, if we never teach it. Broadway theaters instruct audiences in the appropriate use of cell phones in a theater with every performance. Most people comply to those instructions. Technology tools whether devices, or applications need to be integrated into education. It has become our responsibility to teach appropriate use of technology tools, including cell phones. We as educators no longer have a choice in this. Our students will be required to use these tools in their lives. If we are not teaching the concepts of accessing information, collaboration, creation and communication utilizing the tools of technology, we are not preparing our students for their future.