Why should a teacher be prepared to allow or require students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives?
I believe the best way to answer this question is to backtrack to the telos of education. Why do we teach our children? The answers vary from Aristotle and Locke saying that education makes a person whole or even “good” to more pragmatic arguments that it teaches basic skills so the child can get a job later. Why am I bringing this up? Well, all of the arguments I have read on why we educate our children would lead us to using mobile devices for learning.
If we take Aristotle’s argument that it creates a well-balanced person, then making sure our children are able to use and understand the technology that is around them would be necessary (Smith, 2001). The modern world runs on mobile devices these days. The US president generates news by tweeting regularly. In order to participate in this modern world and be a citizen of a democracy, students should be well versed in the language and medium of the world. That language and medium is increasingly mobile based. What kind of a well-balanced citizen would not even know how to access or read the communications of his or her president to even begin to think critically about them?
If, on the other hand, we take the more pragmatic argument, that education leads to job skills, we would still need to use mobile learning. It’s not just children that are glued to their phones on a daily basis. Real business is getting done over mobile devices these days. So, using the device is a base-level skill for the working world. Even more important, though, the ubiquity of mobile devices means that understanding the inner workings of the mobile device has become a very marketable skill to have. This is the world we live in, where mobile communication is how many people get things done. If we want to educate children to participate in the economy, then they need to know these skills. Whether it’s to be a citizen of a democracy or a participant in the economy, education on and about mobile devices are necessary.
A teacher should be prepared to allow or require anything that the world has deemed necessary for life. At one point in time, books were a new invention that revolutionized the world. Looking back, how silly would it sound to have a teacher argue against allowing books into the classroom? Children might get distracted because it’s a thing they can touch or they can read ahead and not listen to the teacher. As it turns out, children do those things, but books are an integral part of our world and that alone is a good enough reason to have them in class. Smart phones are getting into the hands of more people by the second (PRC, 2017). This is not a fad, this is a revolution and not recognizing that is myopic at best and dangerous at worst.
There are only two principles I would call “guiding principles” for using mobile devices in the classroom. The devices should be seen as similar to a notebook. Students used to use notebooks to write notes to each other or do homework, but it was still a private space if they wanted it to be. The mobile device is an extension of their personal spaces. Students might be drawing or writing notes to friends instead of doing work just as easily as they could be texting or playing games on their phone during class. Teachers need to be checking in with students and holding them accountable for their actions. They should be using it in class for learning. A student’s voice can be used for learning or it can be used for bullying, we do not take away their voice during class because of the possible negative consequences, we teach them and hold them accountable for their words.
1. Mobile devices are extensions of personal space and should be treated accordingly.
2. Mobile devices are for learning purposes in class and students should be held accountable if they are misusing the device in class.
Mobile Activity Ideas
One idea I have already designed and will implement soon is to be able to extend learning outside the classroom for my ESL grammar class by having students find and document mistakes they find in their everyday life outside of school. They can record a song, screenshot a website, take a picture of a sign or shirt, etc… and bring them to class and discuss what is wrong and how we can fix it. This idea might not work as well inside a native English speaking country, but I am teaching in South Korea where there are English mistakes often. It allows the students to see how their English skills can be applied in practical situations. It also extends the learning outside the classroom walls and keeps them thinking about English long after the bell has rung, which is great in a non-native English speaking country if the students want to learn English because they need more exposure.
Another idea would be a project where students redesign their city/neighborhood. Students can use the GPS functions and map out spaces in the city and use that space to redesign the city. Students can draw on paper or on the phone using the real dimensions of their city or neighborhood and try and solve problems they find on their journey to map out the space. It would get them outside and focused on areas of their surroundings they might not have ever seen or noticed before. They will also be more focused on problem-solving as they walk around as part of the mission to map. This could be done anywhere in the world and really give students a different perspective about physical space and possibilities for the future of our world.