Cell Phones: tools of engagement or distraction?

10/9/2012 12:00:00 AM
Cell Phones as Learning Tools

I have the opportunity to speak with Greg Graham author of Cell Phones in Classrooms? No! Students Need to Pay Attention on BAM Radio’s Educator’s Channel.  As the author of Teaching Generation Text, which encourages students to use the devices they own and love for learning, it is no surprise we disagree on the subject.  Graham is one of those educators who has yet to update his outdated practices and is holding students prisoners of his past.  To justify this, he uses advice that creative thinker, speaker, and writer Howard Rheingold.

 
  1. Rule Number One is to pay attention.
  2. Rule Number Two: Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

Graham goes on to use these rules to support his belief that we must ban students from using the devices they need for success in their worlds. Oh how disappointed Rheingold must be in having his advice misconstrued by an educator who hasn’t a clue about how technology can be used to engage learners.

Had Graham gone beyond the 1997 advice, he would have found that in his article M-Learning 4 Generation Txt?
 Rheingold laments the outdated educator who doesn’t bother to instruct students “on how to use the online backchannel to augment class discussion, conduct concurrent search or group note-taking during a lecture.” In the article he acknowledges that there are “students that arrive at our campuses with such experiences already under their belts” but points out that, “In the absence of instruction in IT etiquette, students IM, chat, game and find their own way through the pedagogical cyberscape while lecturers try to cope.”

So, whose fault is it that these lectures haven’t updated their classroom management skills and turned these tools of distraction into tools of engagement?  

In my technology innovation work in public schools the teachers and leaders I work with marvel at how much more engaged their students are when they allow their students to use mobile devices.  

Graham asks Always On author Naomi Baron about her thoughts and she says, "A classroom is many places at once, a room for sharing ideas, a space (literally) for contemplation, a setting for social interaction. None of these functions harmonizes with intrusion from the outside."

I’m frightened by one who thinks of connecting to and making meaning with the world as an intrusion.  Heck, Rheingold himself shares that he is hooked on Twitter which is an amazing tool to use with mobile devices for reasons such as, it is:

  • A way to meet new people
  • A way to find people who share interests
  • A window on what is happening in multiple worlds

My advice to Graham and the rest is that it does not make sense to isolate yourself and your students from the world. Stop fighting and start embracing the tools students own and love for learning and if you don’t know how, you can start by reading with this. Those who do, not only will you be better able to connect with students, but they’ll also be more prepared for success in the connected world in which they live.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.



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