An advertisement for MySpace Mobile was included with my latest bill from Cingular for my cell phone service:
MySpace Mobile is a social networking mobile application offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos and much more. Access online MySpace accounts, update directly from the phone, and join the network of 100+ million users around the world who call MySpace home.
Cell phones are already contentious in many schools. Teachers want kids to pay attention in class, not talk or text on a mobile device. As a result, many schools ban cell phones or prohibit students from taking them out of their pocket, purse or backpack during class periods. In Spring 2005, my educational law class small group researched varying school district cell phone policies in West and North Texas. We shared our findings on a wiki that is still available. It was amazing then to see the diversity of policies schools had on cell phones, and I’d guess the same diversity still persists today.
Having a cell phone can be an important thing, but there is no guarantee the cell lines will be open during an emergency. A couple of weeks ago here in Oklahoma City when we had a tornado in our area, some good friends of ours were unable to call each other with either cell phones or landline phones: the circuits were all busy.
Emergency situations aside, generally cell phones are considered distractions rather than useful tools in the classroom. I’m willing to take the likely controversial position that this should change.
Cell phones are viewed as distractions in school settings generally because the focus of “learning experiences” is usually on content transmission. As Roger Shank exhorted the higher education audience at his keynote a couple of weeks ago at SITE, K-12 teachers need to GET OVER the idea that they are or should attempt to be “content experts” for the subjects we “teach” in school. The role of teachers in the classroom needs to BROADLY change from “content expert” to “learning facilitator.” We’ve heard these slogans about “guide on the side” instead of “sage on the stage” for many years, but the availability of rich content from the web AND interactive digital technologies (both synchronous and asynchronous) make the need for this transition more glaring as well as realistic than ever before.
Teens want to be social, and they always will. Seeking ways to utilize cell phones in engaging and worthwhile ways for learning doesn’t have to be a capitulation to the desires of digital natives rather than the learning needs they should master. (This is sometimes a valid critique for teachers who use technology to turn lessons more into edutainment than opportunities to develop higher order thinking skills.) The question teachers, administrators, and school leaders need to be asking is: How can this amazingly powerful tool (the cell phone) be used to ENGAGE students and help them develop the skills as well as knowledge they’ll need for success in the workforce after high school? Instead of asking that question, I think many administrators as well as teachers are happy to just ban cell phone use in school altogether, or certainly during class time.
It sounds harsh, but I think that is a lazy educator’s answer. Good teaching is by its very nature extremely challenging and difficult. Some have observed it can even be termed “wicked,” especially when technologies are used. Boring teaching is generally easy to deliver. Authentically engaging diverse learners is always a MUCH more challenging endeavor. We need teachers in our classrooms who are willing to take on the challenges of “wicked teaching” with technology, rather than those who prefer the easy road of pulling out overhead transparencies which have been “working” with kids for the last 10 to 20 years. Readers of this blog are more likely to fall into the first group, but working as I do in “the real world” of K-12 education away from the bells, whistles and magic of educational technology conferences, I know there are PLENTY of teachers in the latter group who do and will likely continue to balk at the suggestion they should find ways to use cell phones (or other types of digital technologies) with students for instructional and learning purposes.
I’m going to put together a presentation for this summer and next school year specifically focused on using cell phones for learning at school. I’m thinking of one of the following titles for the session:
– Have Cell Phone, Can Create Multimedia!
– Cell Phone and Web Browser MultiMedia Production: All you need is in the palm of your hand!
– Got a Cell Phone? You’ve Got Multimedia!
Can you think of other catchy titles that might fit this theme? I’m thinking “Cell Phones for Learning” might work.
The availability of “MySpace Mobile” as an add-on for cell phone users is likely to make cell phones appear even more potentially disruptive in the eyes of parents, teachers, and school administrators. The continuing proliferation of proxy sites specifically created to help students bypass school content filters so they can access MySpace (like getmyspace.net and others) reveals the “content web war” being waged currently between network administrators and digital natives who want to get to MySpace and other Internet destinations blocked by local content filter policies.
What I would like to see in addition to the MySpace Mobile “add on” for cell phones is a “WikiPedia Mobile” tool that speeds up the process of accessing WikiPedia articles, similar to the WikiPedia widget I use almost every day on my Macbook. On the same website where you can buy “MySpace Mobile” you can also buy “Britannica Concise Encyclopedia Mobile:”
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia Mobile puts the worlds most trusted content on your mobile phone. Use this great tool to research any topic you can think of on the go. Choose from thousands of articles, images, and more, all at your fingertips.
That’s nice, and I certainly would rather have Britannica at my fingertips on my cell phone rather than nothing, but I’d honestly prefer WikiPedia at this point. For must of the topics I look up, I find the articles to be in-depth, accurate, and very helpful. (See Nature Magazine from Dec 2005 for more on that thread.)
I’ve been wanting to have WikiPedia at my fingertips more and more. At the METC conference the first week of March this year during Meg Ormiston’s presentation, she had the audience brainstorm things they know about a person in history. Having my laptop and being connected to the Internet, of course I used WikiPedia to help my group do our brainstorming. In her instructions, Meg didn’t specify that audience members couldn’t use digital tools. When we shared our results and it was revealed that we’d used WikiPedia, I was accused of cheating! That wasn’t cheating! It was an example of USING AVAILABLE TOOLS TO ACCOMPLISH A DEFINED OBJECTIVE.
We focus on short-term memorization way too much in formal educational settings. We need to focus more learning interactions, higher order thinking and communication skills.
If kids show up in your classroom with a cell phone loaded with “MySpace Mobile,” ask them if they can also access WikiPedia. If not, see if they can access Britannica. Then use the access they have to those resources as tools for in-class activities, demonstrating how our access to the “knowledge on the network” can make us more powerful, relevant, and effective as information gatherers, thinkers, and communicators in the 21st century.
That’s an important lesson for us all to learn, and there’s no better way to learn it than by seeing these tools used in context, in person.
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