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Technology in the classroom

This week saw the release of Speak Up 2010, the annual survey of students, parents and educators conducted by Project Knowledge, a California-based non-profit group “dedicated to the empowerment of student voices in education.”

This year’s study, which was one of the largest of its kind, focused on how students view the role of technology in education, and whether schools are taking advantage of the online and mobile tools that are now available.

Although the report contains some interesting observations about parental aspirations and the closing of the digital divide, it spends much of its 18-pages trying to fit a series of questionable survey results into a conspicuously pro-technology agenda.

In many areas, the recommendations of the report are in direct conflict with its own findings. For example, it enthusiastically advocates the “Bring Your Own Device” model as an innovative way to overcome school budget challenges, despite the fact that just 34 percent of middle-schoolers and 44 percent of high-schoolers have access to smartphones.

When students were asked what they would use their mobile devices for, the most popular choice was “to check grades,” a task that can easily be carried out offline and hardly one that will dramatically improve their ability to learn. Of course, there was no mention of playing video games or checking Facebook pages, presumably because those options weren’t included in the narrow list of allowable responses.

Although the report suggests that students are strongly in favor of using mobile and other devices in school, there are no statistics to back this up. Contrast this with the report’s commentary on the opinions of school administrators: “When we asked administrators about the likelihood of them allowing their students to use their own mobile devices for instructional purposes at school this year, a resounding 65 percent of principals said ‘no way!’”

You would think that an overwhelming majority viewpoint from hundreds of veteran administrators of our nation’s public and private schools would merit some further discussion, or at least a listing of the main reasons they feel that way. But nothing; not one more word is said about the opinions of the men and women who are on the front line of this issue, other than to contrast them with the “courageous” minority, who are dubbed “Mobile Learning Explorers.”

However, in the Internet age, it doesn’t take long for teachers and administrators to find their voice. Since the publication of the report, blogs and discussion forums have been awash with direct feedback on what happens when you let middle-school and high-school students bring their cell phones and smartphones into the classroom. Here’s what one educator had to say:

After years of encouraging students to embrace technology in the classroom and retooling my lessons to incorporate technology, I've decided after this semester to ban laptops and cell phones from my classrooms. The percentage of students who are unable to resist the lure of netflix and youtube and facebook is sufficiently high that I can't in all conscience tolerate the contempt for learning that use implies and I don't have the time and resources to police against their abuse of the technology. Unless someone comes up with a way for faculty to easily monitor the way students are using laptops in the classroom, I have to believe they're on the way out. I've been one of the biggest supporters of ed tech at my institution and I'm walking away from the classroom side of the equation. The cost of preventing the downside far outweighs the unique pedagogical gains the technology offers in class.                 
It’s clear that there is an increasingly important role for the Internet and technology-based learning in our schools. It’s also clear that technology has to be introduced in a positive and structured manner, where all students have equal access and educators can incorporate it into the regular curriculum in a manageable and meaningful way.

Should students be allowed to bring their mobile devices into the classroom? Will it encourage learning? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 4/5/2011, 1:23 PM:

Since most school districts across the US have had serious budget cuts, I would imagine the only kids who have mobile devices are those with parents who can afford them. That being said, unless school districts can afford to provide free mobile devices for each student, then I don't think mobile devices should be allowed in classrooms. Students, regardless of age, should not be made to feel inferior to their peers because they don't own the latest device. Thank you. Ellen Lebowitz
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