Monthly Archives: May 2006

Cell Phones in Schools?

After visiting a local middle school this morning and interviewing some students there about their technology use, it has become even more evident to me how important technology is in the daily lives of K-12 students. Number one on the list was their cell phone, and students easily listed half a dozen uses. This was followed by their use of the Internet, television, and games. Students also noted that their access to technology was much more limited at school due to numerous rules and restrictions, despite the fact that there were rules related to usage at home as well.

Interestingly, when asked what technology they would like to have access to in school, students mentioned cell phones. However, when asked further, they couldn't really come up with a reasonable justification as to why they should be allowed to have cell phones in school. I think the question kind of caught them off-guard, as they tend to be told what they cannot have or do in school.

The use of cellphones has become a hot topic of debate in New York City, where the ban on cell phones has been enforced more strongly as of late. While school officials and the mayor oppose student access to cell phones in school because they are a nuisance, cause cheating, increase gang activity, or lead to the taking of inappropriate pictures in bathrooms and locker rooms, students say they need the phones to stay in touch with their families, especially in case of an emergency. The latter is a strong argument in a city that was severely hit by the September 11 attacks. In between these two groups seems to be a relatively larger group of parents, teachers, and ….?, who say they'll allow cell phones in schools as long as teachers can set guidelines for use (e.g. leave them off and out of sight during class; see e.g. this unscientific Edutopia Poll).

I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the issue of cell phones in schools. As much of a proponent as I am of giving K-12 students access to technology, I haven't really been convinced about the utility of cell phones in schools for LEARNING, and there is a variety of issues that would need to be dealt with as well (see e.g. those provided by the National School Safety and Security Services). On the other hand, I think cell phones are great tools for learning outside of the classroom (for both content delivery and creation), as the Frequency 1550 project in Amsterdam, for example, shows. So what side are you on, and why?

Networking, Learning, and Reporting the News

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of days about networking, technology, and learning. In his blog, Jeff Jarvis talks about the idea that everybody is a network, meaning that

Networks are about sharing now; they used to be about control. Networks are two-way; they used to be one-way. Networks are about aggregation more than distribution; they are about finding and being found. Networks are now open while, by their very definition, they used to be closed. You join networks and leave them them at will; you can join any number of networks at once and content can be found via any number of networks, there is no practical limit. Networks used to be static. Now networks are fluid.

Will Richardson commented on this post in his own blog by stating that our educational system does not understand this notion and/or is not willing to deal with it, as it is still a top-down system that is reluctant to change. This is a dangerous situation, because it means that in many ways, school as they exist and operate today are not really preparing students for their future outside of school. As I was reading these posts I was reminded of an article written by Wade Roush last year, entitled "Social Machines", and subtitled "Computing means connecting." In it Roush basically argues that the technology currently available (mobile digital devices; wireless networks; the Internet and web-based social software tools) is creating a world of continuous computing, meaning "always connected", but also that technology is "continuous with our lives", i.e. it's an integrated part of our lives. We use technology when and where we need it, and we can tailor it completely to our needs. One thing that this type of connecting technology has allowed us to do is fundamentally change how the news is reported (and it should need no mention that the news is a form of learning). There are many similarities between the way the news is traditionally being reported and the way in which we teach our children:

  • Use of a top-down model, with only a few people really in charge
  • Information dispensed is pre-digested/shaded/biased…..
  • Information is dispensed at a specific time and in a specific way (e.g. newspaper or the evening news)
  • Comments or opinions about this information are provided by the agencies providing the information 
  • Consumers find ways to circumvent the established system.

It's this last point that I'd like to focus on here. When it comes to reporting the news, younger generations are turning away from the traditional media outlets in ever-increasing numbers, and instead are using mobile and networked technologies as well as web publishing and social software tools to collaboratively create, share, analyze, and digest what is happening in their world. The large media conglomerates are slowly beginning to realize that they are falling behind and are adding blogs and other social software tools to their own arsenals in the hopes that while ordinary people will contribute, the media outlet still controls the content to a large extent.

In education, similar processes are evident. Many students are networking, communicating, and yes, learning outside of school, using a wide variety of digital tools that they are not allowed to use in their own classrooms. While there are obvious dangers in setting kids loose on the Internet, what schools are overlooking is the fact that the types of digital networking and sharing kids are involved in will be a very real part of their future. What schools should be doing instead of outright blocking tools they don't understand or are afraid of, is learning about them and how they are used, and then helping kids (and parents!!) understand how to safely and responsibly use them. If schools don't do this, kids are going to find out how to use them on their own, and we all know what some of the consequences of that are.

Just as people are increasingly circumventing the major media networks, the more schools try to control and block kids from using tools like MySpace and Instant Messaging, the more they will find ways to use them, and often unsupervised. And it's these same kids that are supposed to take care of my generation when we hit retirement. Now that's a scary thought.

Changing Teaching and Learning in Ubiquitous Computing Environments

This is a topic that my colleagues and I have been thinking a lot about lately. This blog entry by Will Richardson (who posted it while at eLive in Scotland), provided the impetus for me to post something on the topic of change as well.

Will makes some very thought provoking statements and is right on the mark when it comes to the current educational system, at least in the U.S. What we are starting to see in Ohio is that kids oftentimes tend to learn DESPITE of what they do in school. This comment is not meant to bash teachers, because many of them are doing great things, but the problem lies in an antiquated educational system that was not designed to prepare students for life in the 21st century (see e.g. statements made by Bill Gates at the National Education Summit on High Schools in 2005), especially when it comes to useful, meaningful, and ethical ways to use technology in everyday life (and what is useful etc. to us may not be to the students we teach!).

So what is the crux of all of this? How does teaching and learning need to change to catch up to the 21st century? Obviously, education needs to change, and the changes need to be profound. As I see it, this would, could, and should happen in the following areas:

Rethinking teaching:

  • Rethinking curriculum (i.e. what is taught)
  • Rethinking pedagogy (i.e. how we teach)
  • Rethinking boundaries (i.e. where teaching takes place, both in time and space)

Rethinking learning:

  • Rethinking engagement (technology engages students in learning, so why do we take it away so often?)
  • Rethinking individualization (one of the great potentials of technology is that it provides opportunities for learning that fits the learner, and not vice versa. Think for example about mobile devices, one-to-one computing, and online tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasting, etc.)
  • Rethinking collaboration (again, technology provides many opportunities for collaboration, both in time and space. It doesn’t matter if who I collaborate with is sitting next to me or is on the other side of the world, current technology enables me to collaborate. It doesn’t matter if we collaborate in real time or asynchronously, technology provides the tools to do it).
  • Rethinking learning for all (this includes students with special needs at both the low and high learning levels)

One of the biggest dilemmas that we face here is that these ideas sound great and would make for a very different educational system if implemented systematically and successfully, but how can we actually make them work? How can we get teachers, administrators etc. to actually think about these ideas and figure out ways to use them.

As Will Richardson says in his blog, education is afraid of technology, because technology means change, and change in education has been and still is an oxymoron. Outside of traditional school settings, kids are using technology for all kinds of ways, whether the technology was intended for those kinds of uses or not. I think it is more than time that we get the students we teach involved in the decision-making process. Let’s ask them what technology they use, how they use it, who they use it with, and how they could use it for learning. This is being done in some places (see e.g. this report by EducationEvolving). I think they could teach us a thing or two about that. Once we get this dialogue going maybe we could teach them about using technology in ethical and safe ways (education’s main concerns when it comes to technology use by kids)….

Battery Life

I was going to try and make this first 'real' post something deep and thought-provoking, but instead, it ended up being about a more practical issue that I run into frequently when working with kids and technology, battery life. Whether we're using cell phones, handheld computers, digital cameras, or laptops, the battery always seems to die at the most critical time. Much research is being done on alternative sources of power such as fuel cells, or ultra-low power devices such as the cellphones described here.

Moreover, one initiative at Intel Research in Seattle is looking at eliminating the need for batteries altogether. A description of this project can be found in this Technology Review article by Kate Greene.

I hope they come up with a good solution for the battery problem, both from an educational and environmental point of view.

First post

Welcome to my blog! My work in ubiquitous computing, participation in numerous discussion boards and trying to keep up with the virtual flood of blogs and other great sites that deal with technology for teaching and learning finally drove me to start this blog. I hope it will become a useful repository of my (and others') ideas in the area of ubiquitous computing for teaching and learning, as well as links to other blogs, forums, and websites I visit on an almost daily basis. I'll try to keep it updated on a regular basis 😀