For as long as humanity has developed and thrived, there have been ground-breaking developments which have enhanced the working lives of many people, whether it be the stone headed spear that made our hunter gatherer ancestors’ jobs that bit easier, the printing press that made knowledge immeasurably more accessible in the Middle Ages or Steve Jobs’ Mac or Bill Gates’ PC that make the day-to-day goings-on in so many workplaces across the country, and indeed the world, so much easier. But with these advancements comes a very important question. How should we utilise cutting-edge technology in the classroom setting? There is one particular example that I will focus on here, which embodies many of the positives and negatives that can be drawn from the use of technology in schools. There are about 30 of them in most classrooms and they have become so embedded into our routine and working methods that we sometimes almost forget they’re there. I’m talking of course, about the mobile phone.
The use of mobile phones is an issue that will have presented itself to anyone who has entered a secondary school classroom in the last 10 years. Almost every student has one and their use in lessons is becoming commonplace, but is this a good thing?
First let’s focus on the positives, taking as an example probably the most advanced phone of the moment, the iPhone. Its App Store allows you to download a myriad of applications that would make almost any situation slightly easier to deal with, two prominent examples of which that I’ve heard of being used throughout the school being iDHSB, developed by two of our own students to provide on the go access to our school VLE and other important school information, and iStudiez Pro, an app with built-in calendar and assignment planner to help organise all your schoolwork. Not owning an iPhone my self , I couldn’t tell you about these apps’ most intricate workings, but I can report from what I’ve heard from others that they’ve become an invaluable part of their school life, without which they would be lost.
Nowadays almost every phone also comes with Internet access as standard, so when you are stuck trying to find a fact or figure for an answer it is at your fingertips, as is the important information about your exam next week that your teacher sent you via e-mail. Have you ever had a meeting at lunchtime which a friend hasn’t turned up to? Well as we all have phones now, we can just ring them to give them a quick reminder. We can also set reminders for ourselves using the inbuilt calendars that most phones are blessed with. Need to note something down quickly? There’d probably some form of memo pad on your mobile somewhere. And of course, who can forget the humble calculator that seems to have been an accessory of every phone since the dawn of time (I’m probably showing there how much of a digital native I’ve become), which is fast becoming an incredibly useful tool in lessons for students who have forgotten their calculators.
The mobile phone then, integrates our homework planner, calculator, notebook, e-mail inbox and so much more into one handy device, ensuring that we are always connected wherever we need to go.
But most of the advantages of phones could also be seen as disadvantages merely by looking at them from a different viewpoint. You want something on your phone? Well, there’s an App for that! But unfortunately, teenagers being teenagers, whenever we’re using the useful, educational apps that I mentioned earlier in class, we’ll probably all feel at least the slightest temptation to start playing “Angry Birds” or “Temple Run”, thus detracting from our learning. The 500,000 apps on Apple’s app store could be seen as a great opportunity to improve learning by one person, but could be 500,000 different distractions to another.
And the internet access that phones most often now have? Can everyone honestly say that every single time they used it in class it’s been for a legitimate educational purpose? You’ve never once used it to see what the football score is, or check up on your Facebook account? Then there’s the connectivity to friends. Yes, we could use it to get hold of people when we really need to, but why stop there? Why bother doing the boring old exercise your teacher’s set you when you could just text your mates? I mean that’s much more fun, right? And the calculators and notepads on phones. Can you honestly say they are better than their more traditional counterparts? Yes, the calculator could be used for basic sums, but when you have more complex functions to compute they are just not up to the task. And admittedly the notepads may be good for getting a few details down quickly, but an exercise book or folder of notes is a much better way of organising your work long term.
But what, you say, of the fact that it brings together almost everything you could possibly need throughout the school day? It saves time in rummaging around for your planner, means you have your calendar right next to you and can check on it in an instant and are able to see e-mails from teachers that may be of importance of you. Yes, there is no denying that the phone can do all these things, but what happens when it gets lost, damaged or stolen? If you’re reliant upon your phone to see what homework you have to do, then you’ll be missing deadlines. If you have important notes on there, how will you access them? If this is the only calculator you have with you, then what? You’re stuck without the necessary equipment and information to get through the school day and learn effectively.
So, it seems that the piece of technology with perhaps the most potential for good in the classroom also poses some of the greatest risks to our learning. With careful self-control over how we use them, they can be great tools, but when we become dependent upon them, they can lead to serious problems. This is a point that holds true, I think you’ll agree, for most technological advances we make and something that we’d do well to bear in mind, as technology seeps it’s way into both our social and academic lives.
By Alex Lea