A common fallacy in educational technology is the assumption that since kids know how to use phones better than their parents do, they also know how to use them to learn. Almost any educator can tell you this is not the case. Technology often wins in the battle for students' attention in the classroom, which has led to skepticism about the educational role of devices and the rise of "no cell phone zones."
However, we argue that banning technology is a disservice to today's students--those students who will be expected to use technology productively and efficiently in higher education and the workplace. Digital Media Specialist Mimi Ito notes, “We tend to see [mobile devices] as a distraction from learning because adults aren’t participating in [formalizing the process]… It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. They’re not participating in shaping the kind of influence these devices [could have]. By embracing mobile devices in our classrooms, we empower students in the learning process.”
Teaching digital citizenship, as opposed to avoiding the issue altogether, is the key to preparing our students for tomorrow's expectations and creating the difference between using devices and using devices for learning.
The fact is this: students are using and will continue to use mobile devices, which begs the question: If they’re using their mobile devices anyway, why not encourage and teach productivity and responsible use? Instead of fighting against the educational technology movement, we suggest proctoring and monitoring the use of mobile devices, bringing them out of the backpack and, more importantly, above the desk. By restricting the use of technology in schools or categorically blocking certain websites, we are missing two valuable teaching points: 1) the responsible use of mobile devices and 2) the power of mobile devices for productivity, engagement, and higher-order thinking--all of which have been identified as beneficial outcomes of educational technology.
With respect to the first, students use mobile devices outside of the classroom and this use is rarely monitored; therefore, by ignoring mobile devices in the classroom, students are not learning the potential dangers of their actions. Through technology programs, students can also learn when, where, and why mobile devices are appropriate--discovering how to use them for productivity, knowledge, and academic communication, not simply for informal communication and games. Class discussions can develop on unfavorable outcomes, which can ultimately lead to smarter use of technology and fewer security issues as students internalize the principles for what is appropriate to share and how to make those decisions independently. Responsible digital citizens also exercise better judgment about sharing on social media sites, reading privacy statements, and evaluating the security and validity of websites.
As far as educational benefits, the use of technology in the classroom has had significant impacts on students' learning and performance. In interviews with classroom teachers, we often hear, "There's just something about technology that engages students." For example, John Silverthorn, an elementary school teacher, notes his students seem “more intrinsically motivated” when they use devices in class, empowered by seeing the connections between the material they’re currently studying and other things they’ve learned or connections to their non-academic lives. More rigorous research studies complement these anecdotes, citing technology for increased collaboration, interest, engagement, productivity, and teacher creativity.
For those of your thinking, "yeah, this sounds good in theory," consider these experiences from educational technology veterans. Leaders from Forsyth County Schools in Georgia state, “We have noticed that disciplinary issues regarding technology have been down since the implementation of BYOT [Bring Your Own Technology]. It is surprising in some ways how normal it seems with the devices in the school.” Similarly, teachers at Oak Hill Local School District find, “students text less in class when they have the opportunity to text their friends in the hall.” When it does occur, off-task and inappropriate use provide a great opportunity to teach students the difference between the use of mobile in professional and casual settings. Finally, Educational Technology Specialist Michelle Bourgeois found that “once devices were in the hands of teachers and students there was far more potential for creativity and student empowerment than district officials had imagined. The district has been working to get out of the way of that generative energy.”
Teaching digital citizenship is a necessary companion to any educational technology initiative. While there are certainly many things to be wary of in the digital age, there are also many useful and robust resources that can help students. With digital citizenship, it's imperative that teachers begin with the intention of turning their students' smart phone and technology skills into productive learning skills--and understand the difference between using devices and using them to learn.