Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Possible educational value of using phones in schools

Today, I had a very enjoyable conversation with Dr. Kate Highfield about the roles of technology in early education. I've always been frustrated by school technology use in the US- we complain about not having the funds to support a 1-1 technology to student ratio in classrooms, but then spend countless amounts of time and energy preventing kids from brings cell phones into the classroom. We live in a world in which we are close to 1-1 people to technology ratio, and then we ban that technology from schools, and then try to recreate that 1-1 ratio from scratch. Which is why I was very intrigued when Dr. Highfield described how common the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy was in Australian schools.

Putting aside the utility of greater student connectivity, could there potentially be other benefits to letting students use their phone in the classroom? Hear me out for a second. In my work at Iridescent, I found a real value to giving families in our family science program piles of unsorted household supplies to build their machines with. You can give nice fabricated or branded pieces, or "kits" of carefully measured out proportions of household materials, but either of those options tends to give the impression that you need the "nice" stuff or the "kit" to do science, and leads to less making things after the program ends. Nothing beats a random pile of unsorted household materials for giving someone the confidence to do science on their own, at home.

So would the same thinking apply to technology devices? Consider that whatever we do with phones in school, kids are going to be on their phones when they leave school. Wouldn't it be great if kids were spending that phone time on more productive, learning activities? It might be that using a school technology device, like a labtop or a tablet with some preloaded software, gives kids the impression that they need the "technology kit" to learn on their technology device. Maybe they will think that they need the school's computer that has been specifically specced out for learning apps, or the actual pre-installed applications, to really learn on some technology. Maybe they'll see that they can do some of the same stuff on their home computers, if they have one. But, on their phones? What if students actually needed to use their phones in school, in order to view and later use their phones as learning tools?

So here's my question to Dr. Highfield and anyone else- has anyone researched this issue, particularly in a place like Australia where a BYOD policy exists? Does the type of technology used by students in school affect how those same students use their personal technology devices outside of school?

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