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Tag: cell phones

The New Computer Lab

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of personal portable communications devices* in a classroom setting, only a small part of which is driven from carrying around an iPad for the last six weeks or so.

Based mainly on my experience, I think Apple’s tablet will be a very compelling device for learning, once they push out a few major upgrades. More about that in another post.

Anyway, here in the overly-large school district we are also running experiments with the instructional use of the iPod Touch, as well as seriously discussing how and why students might use their own personal computing devices in the classroom.

Frequently, however, I get an impression that many of the people involved don’t understand the nature of these tools and how they are designed to be used.

They want very much to map them onto our classic computer lab style of technology use.

In a computer lab, even one consisting of laptops stored in a big metal box that is rolled from room to room, all the units are the same. Or essentially identical when booted.

All have the same software, identical desktops, files all in the same places, mapped to the same servers, and sometimes are even connected to a master unit that can take control of the whole lab.

And all the kids using them are expected to be doing exactly the same activities on each computer.

On the other hand, the powerful devices coming to school in the pockets of students (and many adults) are designed to be personal, with everything customized by the user to make the unit function best for them.

The “lab” created when each student boots their personal “computer” would result in almost none of the workstations looking – or working – alike.

So, as one teacher recently asked me, how are we supposed to get anything done if every computer in the room is different?

It’s a valid question, and I think the answer lies in a fundamental mistake we’ve made over the decades in the way we’ve taught kids and adults to use computers.

We taught Microsoft Word Fundamentals instead of learning the writing process regardless of the tool being used.

Our training focused on the mechanics of PowerPoint instead of on understanding the best ways to communicate ideas.

While this approach is possible, and relatively easy to implement, when using a standardized lab, it falls apart completely in a BYOC setting.

So we “get something done” by separating learning to use the technology from using that technology as a tool for learning more useful skills – like writing and communicating ideas.

After setting minimum requirements for the “computers”, we put the responsibility on the students themselves for knowing how to use the different applications.

Then we give them meaningful assignments and evaluate their work based on factors other than how well they use fonts and the number of slides in their shows.

I know, I know… far too simplistic.

However, if a 1-1 ratio of kids to computers in our schools, at least high schools, is really what we want (and I hear many around here say it is), then we will need to make two major changes to our education process.

First, we must allow and encourage students to freely use their own computing devices in schools (and provide them for those families who can’t afford it).

And then completely revise both the curriculum and our approach to teaching to fit the new circumstances.

Not simple at all, but do we have any other options?

*I know that’s a very clunky name but “smart phones” doesn’t nearly cover the capabilities of these devices and “computer” ties them too much to a stereotype.

Teach Them to Respect the Power

An elementary school principal relates a sad, and unfortunately all too common, story of students harrassing a girl on the bus.

Camera-equipped cell phones were among the tools of choice.

The pre-adolescent teasing took a turn for the worse when the boys yanked out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the “couple.”

The boys were adding graphics such as hearts to the pictures on their phones, and they were threatening to send the pictures to other fifth graders’ cell phones. The girl was covering her face and telling the boys to stop. They continued with their taunting, taking pictures and teasing the two kids, even as she pleaded for them to stop. It ended when the bus arrived at school a few minutes later.

Too many administrators would blame the cell phones and be further encouraged to ban students from carrying them in school (or on the bus).

This one, however, understood that the technology was not the cause of the problem.

Instead, use these examples of poor behavior to teach children to use their phones (and other technologies) responsibly and appropriately. Teach children the positive uses of technology so that they respect the power they hold in their hands. Instead of eliminating cell phone use in school, use cell phones more in school.

He also realizes that changing the behavior of the boys involved requires an educational approach that has nothing to do with technology.

We need more principals who think like this.

Do I Have To Listen To That?

I’m not a frequent flyer, but this doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

While airlines in the United States have shunned the use of cellphones in flight, some European and Mideast carriers are preparing to offer the service as early as this summer.

I wonder if the airlines would consider setting up cell-phone free sections.

Of course they’d probably try to charge more for them when they should be tacking on a large fee for those who want the privilege of abusing other passengers with phone pollution.

Communicating With The World (But Not Here)

An interesting article in the New York Times magazine discusses how cell phone manufacturers are employing people with anthropological training to help them understand their customers.

And the numbers of those users are growing rapidly as networks spread, get more robust, and people take advantage of their new ability to communicate outside their immediate sphere.

To someone who has spent years using a mobile phone, these moments are common enough to feel banal, but for people living in a shantytown like Nima – and by extension in similar places across Africa and beyond – the possibilities afforded by a proliferation of cellphones are potentially revolutionary. Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cellphones, the bulk of them to be found in Africa and Asia. Even the smallest improvements in efficiency, amplified across those additional three billion people, could reshape the global economy in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

I’m not sure I buy the premise embedded in the title, Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?, but it does sound as if they are playing a growing role in improving their economic lives.

It also struck me that people in these countries, where many have never used a computer, are now learning to make use of basic web tools like SMS messaging on these mobile devices.

So, what happens when their cheap cell phones get more traditional internet access? It’s very possibly they never will use a “computer”, at least in the form we’ve come to know.

However, there is a real irony in this story that’s much closer to home.

One of the big school board goals here in the overly-large school district revolves around our students gaining an awareness and understanding of these same people and their societies.

But as they expand their ability to communicate with the world, we continue to restrict our students’ digital movements to our local walled garden.

Oh, and we also ban their personal communications devices.

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