SmartPhone – Dumb School

Lockedphone This week I attended a panel discussion sponsored by Mobile Portland entitled “The Myth of Mobile Context.” I was treated to an all-star panel that tacked tough questions exploring challenges, opportunities, design considerations and the user experience in the mobile context.

Through the talk,  I kept thinking about a quote from my previous post – The Future of Schools – Three Design Scenarios

“With rare exceptions, schools currently treat the digital revolution as if it never happened. Computers, more often than not, still sit in dedicated rooms, accessible only with adult supervision.

… When students step out the door of the institution called school today, they step into a learning environment … in which one is free to follow a line of inquiry wherever it takes one, without the direction and control of someone called a teacher… If you were a healthy, self-actualizing young person, in which of these environments would you choose to spend most of your time?

… The more accessible learning becomes through unmediated relationships and broad-based social networks, the less clear it is why schools, and the people who work in them, should have such a large claim on the lives of children and young adults…”

While I’ve seen some cutting edge schools / teachers that have effectively embraced mobile technology and social networking, too many educators see smartphones as a distraction from learning. Many schools block Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social web as if it was pornography.

So where’s this put our students? For many it means that they must leave their smartphone at the classroom door and surrender themselves to an information culture controlled by the adults. What’s the mobile context in schools? Not much, it’s banned as subversive to learning.

Every day in school, students must “forget” about the information control and functionally their phone gives them to browse, research, monitor, network, shop and entertain. While they might view a photo just posted to Facebook from a friend’s mobile as the catalyst to a conversation, their teacher considers it a distraction from learning.

Mostly technology in school offers an “illusion of modernity” – automating routine tasks like word processing, or watching a teacher having fun at the smartboard. If students do get online in school – it often involves viewing “filtered” web content with limited functionality.  Of course students need lessons in “digital hygiene.” But curating all their web content and interactions doesn’t teach them responsible use, it just sequesters them behind a firewall. “Suspicion invites treachery” ~ Voltaire

When students do get on a school workstation (laptop or desktop) they quickly realize that it doesn’t “know” them as well as their phone does. Their personal device carries a wealth of information that’s important to them – contacts, photos, data, memories. To the school desktop, students are just a user on the network with a limited range of permissions. The biggest problem with the school computer is that it doesn’t do “place” at all. That’s a stark contrast to students’ mobiles, which geo-browse via the growing number of locational apps and geo-tagged information stream.

Mobile context in schools? Not much.

Maybe it was a bit harsh to entitle the post “Smart Phones – Dumb Schools.” But try doing without your smartphone tomorrow and see if that doesn’t feel like a pretty dumb idea.

For thoughful insights on the mobile web watch this great Slideshare by Yiibu.

The Future of Schools – Three Design Scenarios

Richard Elmore and Elizabeth City of Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote a powerful piece in Education Week Using Technology to Move Beyond Schools (May, 16, 2011).

Since it’s behind a subscription paywall, I thought I’d quote it broadly to help spread its powerful message. For my thoughts on the subject please see my post What Happens in Schools When Life Has become an Open-book Test?

“What proportion of the activity called ‘learning’ will be located in the institution called ‘school’?” The availability of relatively cheap technologies offering direct access to knowledge of all types creates opportunities for students to experience a dramatic increase in the choice of what they learn, with whom they choose to learn, and how they choose to learn. How will the institution called “school” survive in this environment, in what form will it survive, and what would schools look like if they chose not just to “survive” but to find a productive place in this new environment?

With rare exceptions, schools currently treat the digital revolution as if it never happened. Computers, more often than not, still sit in dedicated rooms, accessible only with adult supervision.

… When students step out the door of the institution called school today, they step into a learning environment … in which one is free to follow a line of inquiry wherever it takes one, without the direction and control of someone called a teacher… If you were a healthy, self-actualizing young person, in which of these environments would you choose to spend most of your time?

… The more accessible learning becomes through unmediated relationships and broad-based social networks, the less clear it is why schools, and the people who work in them, should have such a large claim on the lives of children and young adults…

Consider three possible school scenarios for the next generation or so.

The first might be called “fighting for survival,” or “turtle gets a laptop.” Schools continue to be organized and run in much the same way as they are today. …Teachers and schools continue to control access to content and learning. In this instance, schools will increasingly become custodial institutions, isolated from the lives of their students and the learning environment beyond their walls.

The second scenario might be called “controlled engagement,” or “frog gets a GPS device.” In this case, schools make some nonincremental leaps in the way they are organized and run. Schools set the learning destinations and map out the best pathways to those destinations. … Teachers are less gatekeepers of knowledge, and more knowledge brokers. … Schools become less places where students go to learn from adults, and more places where adults and students get together to enter a broader learning environment

The third scenario might be called “open access to learning,” or “caterpillar learns to fly.” Here schools cease to play the determining role in what constitutes knowledge and learning. …Schools are on their own, competing with other types of service providers and learning modalities for the interest and loyalty of students and their parents. A family might combine services from two or three different organizations into a learning plan …Schools, as we presently know them, would gradually cease to exist and be replaced by social networks organized around the learning goals of students and their families.

I imagine that many educators will dismiss this commentary as being too far-fetched. Perhaps schools need be reminded of the growing irrelevance of information gatekeepers (record companies, book publishers, newspapers) in the lives of their students.

Image credit flickr

Google Chromebook: 1-to-1 Computing for $180 per Student?

Google-chrome-logo-1000 This week Google launched the Chromebook – a cloud-based "laptop" priced at $20 per month. That's $180 per student for a nine-month school year. Not a bad price for 1 to 1.

It's built on the already popular Google Chrome and Google apps platform. (I'm using both with increasing regularity).  It will be a tempting offer for schools – instant on, always connected – plus no software installs, anti-virus, or upgrades to worry about. Run it at school on the district WiFi, then take it home and use 3G – Verizon is providing 100mb of data per month for free. 

The Chromebook will raise big questions about collection of personal student data, internet security and acceptable use policies. But Google claims to have features in place which offers granular controls on web access (1st graders can't get to sites that might be acceptable to high schoolers.) 

I wonder if schools will take the bait? If I were the school IT guy – I'd be nervous. If it turns out Chromebook works as advertised, I might be out of work.

On second thought – I should get one for my mother. That's an IT job I'd like to lose!

Save Our Schools March -You Can Make a Difference

Save-our-schools The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is holding a one-day fundraiser.  Please consider making a tax-deductible gift today, as part of their day-long May 7th “Money Cascade” to support the March. They’ve set an initial goal of $2500.  

I just made a quick $10 donation – will you match me?

Click here to go to their donation page via Paypal

Here’s more information from Save Our Schools March

“The march is being held in response to recent destructive ‘reform’ efforts which have undermined our public educational system, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation. Something must be done – and it must be done now!

Please join people from all across America as they gather to participate in the Save Our Schools March on Saturday, July 30 in Washington, D.C.

The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is calling on Americans everywhere to demand: 

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities. 
  • An end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation.
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.
  • Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies.”
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