It Takes a Vision

God forbid we manage to think about the phone as a learning device. I guarantee you that none of the sponsors of the bill have ever typed “define insipid” (or any other word, for that matter) into a text message on their phone and sent it to 46645? (Try it sometime.) I know I mention this a lot in my presentations, but I’m wondering why cell phones aren’t a part of my kids’ curriculum between now and the time they graduate from high school. I’m wondering why teachers aren’t picking up their cell phones and finding answers to the questions they’re asking, modeling the technology for their students. Why they aren’t talking about ethical and effective use instead of making sure kids check them at the door. —Will RichardsonIt Takes a Vision  (weblogg-ed)

A well-phrased response to Pennsylvania House Bill 1245 P.N. 1570 bill that would prohibit electronic devices from schools:

The possession by students of telephone paging devices, commonly referred to as beepers, cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material shall be prohibited on school grounds, at school sponsored activities and on buses or other vehicles provided by the school district.

Yes, it’s annoying when students use their cell phones instead of pay attention during class. Now, this bill applies to children, not college students, so I have the luxury of saying that when one of my students wishes to pay attention to a gadget instead of class, I try to think of that as the student’s way of sending me a message. That message may be “This part of class has become boring… move on to something else,” or it may be “No matter what you do today, I am more interested in my gadget than in learning.” Either way, it’s information that I can use.

I don’t really get that annoyed when a student’s phone starts vibrating, though it is kind of ironic when a phone shifts from vibrate to some silly tune because the student has momentarily left the phone at his or her desk in order to give a formal report. I never have to say anything in such cases, because the student is usually embarrassed enough.

Even in the paper-and-pencil classroom, instructional technology has the potential to be abused. Once during a class discussion, a student kept tearing pages out of a notebook and crumpling them up quite dramatically. At first, it seemed as if the student was responding negatively to a new turn in the discussion — as if to say, “The notes I took in the past few minutes aren’t worth anything of that’s where you’re going with this discussion,” and I could see the behavior was distracting the other students. But as this continued, I could tell the student wasn’t even listening to the discussion — I was witnessing a wild brainstorming session, in which the student was trying to nail down a thesis.

Possessing and using the paper wasn’t the problem — there are times when the ideas are flowing and you’ve just got to work them out. Yet the student was not aware of the effect the noisy crumpling was having on the class discussion. The solution is not to ban paper simply because it can be disruptive if a student noisily crumples it during a classroom. The solution is instead to create a supportive culture where students think of each other as resources, not cogs in the “listen/take notes/memorize/spit back” educational machine. And once again, because I teach students who choose to be in the classroom, I realize that school teachers have to spend a lot more energy on maintaining discipline, since they are expected to teach all students, not just the ones who want to be there.

A couple years ago, my dean asked me in passing if I thought the new media journalism students should be required to have laptops. I said no, and I still feel that way. I don’t think all liberal arts students NEED laptops. A few students who rely exclusively on computer labs do complain about the amount of time they have to spend online for my classes, and I have adjusted the way I teach with blogs in order to make it possible for a student to log in once, rather than follow a thread as it develops. SHU is considering a program in which students sign up for PDAs; that would really open up the classroom to some new possibilities.

Yes, I would like to teach students the kind of sustained, penetrating critical thinking skills that are necessary to comprehend and produce traditional vehicles of knowledge and inquiry, such as the lecture and the essay. But gadget-loving teens come into the classroom with a huge set of experiences and strengths that the traditional classroom does not tap.