Just last week NPR published an interesting little article discussing educators’ and experts’ views with regards to the role of personal technology within the classroom. The article presented a spectrum of views regarding whether student’s access to cellphones and laptops provided a net-negative effect to the classroom learning environment. It’s easy to scoff at this question as technological conservatism. I personally recall the days when elementary school children were free to bike miles to class unescorted, yet ownership of a beeper or cellphone was an expulsion-worthy sign of poor character. The distractions were still present, those wishing to mentally escape class were free to play a few rounds of Decision on their graphing calculators. Barring access to such technology a couple chapters of young adult fiction from a hidden book could make the days go by. Truly, lacking any comparative experience from the teacher’s side of a K-12 environment, I have great empathy for the distracted students who as of yet have little to no true agency in their lives and educational participation.
Still, as was discussed in Pedagogy lecture, one must also acknowledge the very meaningful difference between such passive time wasters and the realities of the open Internet. A ten dollar burner from the grocery store now yields access to an entire ecosystem of apps optimized to capture one’s eyes as often as possible. As magazines die and consumers cut cable, we’ve grown to accept trading a little kick of digital dopamine here and there for the ad-views which make our world go round. Perhaps this beast of technology is a bit less Mickey Mouse and a bit more Joe Camel? As tempting as it may be to view this once more through a generational lens there’s much to be said here with regards to personal learning objectives. Most specifically, is one most concerned with theory or implementation?
For those theory-minded individuals who are most gifted if not pleased to conceive, recognize, and describe problems, rich contemplation on singular matters is key. While this would run at odds to distraction-prone technologies, it’s also important to consider the roles of discussion and debate. How fully formed may a theory be if it has not been contemplated via outsourced perspectives? Truly, is the classroom a simple knowledge dump where one must optimize transmission rates as one would with their wireless router? Perhaps theory is best served as hors d’oeuvres, offering lots of little tidbits to be more properly merged and ingested hours later as the mind slides into REM sleep.
Those most entertained or gifted by implementation have a much different process for digesting knowledge. They may be alarmingly unconcerned with why, yet adept at the granular nuances of how. For these students I see no reason to limit access to any personal technology within the classroom. Lets start with a few base assumptions here. While technology aids distraction, technology also enables the rapid lookup of knowledge. The Internet of social distractions is also the Internet of tutorials, open troubleshooting, and technogeek forums. Using a series of google queries an implementation-minded student may learn the entire methods behind an artistic or technical process without being bogged down by the theory of why.
This brings up a question of equitability. There’s much debate on the role of gifted-education programs, whether they uplift those admitted or suppress those not. Given access to personal technology, the most invested students may explore points of curiosity 5 steps ahead of a lecture for a far richer experience. However, are the remainder of the students differentially distracted by the open web, and does one make up for the other? Technology will always become faster, better, and cheaper. Therefore, any mainstream technology which is sufficiently workable now (I’m looking at you 2005 Google docs) will almost certainly out-pace its traditional peers later. If technological distractions have reached a robust and stable state, perhaps it’s best we accept their intrusion and await the emergence of more captivating educational technology? As computational power and open source tools grow near disposable, the opportunity for simulation and interaction grows for theory and implementation-minded learners alike.
– Dead person with above-average SES and a robust social network –