Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is the use of mobile technology in K-12 schools a smart idea?

The question that makes up this blog entry's title (or one very similar to it) is being asked throughout the country, by educators and parents alike. The response varied more than most people realized, thus revealing a gap between those who support the idea of using mobile devices in school and those who are not as favorable towards the idea. Project Tomorrow surveyed 294,399 K-12 students, 42,267 parents, 35,525 teachers, and several thousand librarians, school and district administrators, and technology leaders in 6,541 public and private school districts.

I just read an article in eSchoolNews about the first part of the Speak Up report published by Project Tomorrow. It was also shared in a congressional briefing on April 1 called “The New 3 E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered – How Today’s Students are Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Learning.”

The findings of the Speak Up report is very interesting to me but not entirely surprising. It seems that parents and students different in their perceptions and opinions regarding the use of mobile technology in K-12 school when compared to school administrators and teachers. Here are some of the key findings:
  • 67 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it, and 61 percent said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks.
  • 53 percent of middle and high school students reported that the inability to use cell phones, smart phones or MP3 players was the largest obstacle when using technology in school. Additionally, 71 percent of high school students and 62 percent of middle school students said that the number one way schools could make it easier to use technology would be to allow greater access to the digital content and resources that Internet firewalls and school filters blocked.
  • Parents are increasingly supportive of online textbooks. Two-thirds of parents view online textbooks as a good investment to enhance student achievement compared to 21 percent in 2008. However, E-textbooks are still a relatively novel concept in the classroom. Slightly over one-third of high school students report they are currently using an online textbook or other online curriculum as part of their regular schoolwork.
  • Nearly 30 percent of high school students have experienced some type of online learning.
The report also points to the reluctance of many teachers and administrators in allowing students to use their mobile devices on campus because of the potential abuse (even though many realize the potential use for educational purposes). While the report is good and insightful for the most part, I also find it an unfortunate teasing of data because answers depend on what lens you are looking through (meaning that perceptions and attitudes are not fully understood by the numbers alone). In fact, I can easily place myself in each role and my answers may vary as a result. I will attempt to demonstrate my point below with some risk of being misunderstood, but I will trust the reader to arrive at the finer points.

For example, as a student I want access to information and desire the option to use the available technologies whether they are provided for me or owned by me (and tend to resent what seems like outdated restrictions). As a parent, I want my teenage students to be among those who use and understand technology naturally and know how to separate work and play (and tend to resent a system that denies my kids the opportunity to act responsibly with technology at school since it is required of them at home). As an technology educator, I want our students to utilize the latest technologies so they can develop 21st Century skills, but also see the challenges of keeping them focused even in highly monitored computer labs; therefore, I am forced to admit that many of them will misuse their mobile technologies if allowed in the classroom (so, in a total cognitive dissonance, I support existing technology policies for good reasons yet struggle with the observation that we ask our students to lock their mobile technologies in their lockers, which offer untapped leaning potential, so they can walk to computer labs and use older technology, which is strapped with too many restrictions). Hmmm...

As educators, we will eventually have to deal with the mounting pressure to allow a greater use of mobile technology on our campuses. It will be another game changer for education and brings up more questions than I will care to list here. Besides, we are not ready for the mass-use of smart phones in the classroom any time soon. We will have to make changes to our policies, curriculum, learning environments, teaching styles, technology-related infrastructures, etc. Unfortunately, these are significant changes that non-educators are not completely aware of when they occasionally ask me, "What's the big deal?" or lately "If students are allowed to use their smart phones during school, wouldn't that save the district money since less computers would be required?" Real questions that deserve real answers. However, I am also confident we will eventually implement smart solutions that include emerging technologies like the recent wave of very smart phones...as soon as we figure out how to use them smartly. ; )

Friday, April 1, 2011

Does Technology Have a Place in Education?

Asking the question that is also this blog entry's title may seem like a ridiculous question in today's time.  However, it's one that has been asked since the days of Socrates.  Did you know that Socrates was somewhat suspicious of the technology of letters?  As the ancient Greeks debated the invention of the alphabet (which was widely applauded and accepted), Socrates feared too much emphasis would be placed on the "learning of letters" rather than what they represented.  Regardless of his fear, the technology of letters changed an oral culture into a scribal culture.

The question at hand surfaced again when Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1452.  This invention radically changed the world and revolutionized education.  Some influential powers of the day tried to stop it but failed.  The printing press technologies changed a scribal culture into a print culture.

Now, we in the 21st century are witnessing another change in education. We are moving from a print culture to an electronic culture.  Just as earlier technologies like the alphabet and the printing press, the electronic technologies are changing the way we come to know and interact with the world.  The way we educate is being reinvented and there is no way to stop it from happening...no matter how resistant some may be because of their own fears and educational concerns.

So, I ask, "Does Technology Have a Place in Education?"