Phones – Learning Tools or Short Cut Tools?

This was the image of a teacher’s desk during a recent mid-semester exam.  Our students were not able to hold onto the phones because some students will use them to gain an advantage over other students.  In a straightforward semester exam, phones offer multiple methods for cheating (creative short cuts!!)


When will these phones be used as learning tools, not as “cheating” devices during exams for students?  When will they be  learning tools on a regular basis in the classroom?  How are we going to deal with the ubiquitous nature of technology in schools?  The proliferation of smart phones, tablets, ipads and other wireless devices in schools coupled with growing bandwidth and wireless access, presents unknown potential for teaching and learning.

How will these tools support the end goals of a K-12 education?  How will these tools support the development of the skills needed for being a self-regulated learner, a self-reliant learner, and a lifelong learner?

Perhaps they impact learning more than we consider at present.  Consider the amount of communication the tools already support amongst students.  Perhaps, in all that texting and image/document sharing that is taking place all the time – literally 24/7 (with a few hours in the middle of the  night to catch some sleep) there are some educational and/or school related exchanges of information.  Surely, with the volume of digital traffic there must be something related to homework, tests, projects, research, and other school related matters!! Perhaps not…..not yet anyway.

An iphone does not replace a laptop, nor does an ipad – not yet anyway.  So where is the role of an iphone with respect to student learning?  With the amazing apps and search capacity, what are the possibilities?  That is the question to consider.  When will a student use their phone to tour a museum, view a video of an important event, search for information to conduct a fact check about a date in history, listen to a news report on a current event in the world,  connect with alumni or colleagues in another school who might be working on a similar project,  use twitter for exchanging resources, or simply view notes and assignments posted online by a teacher. Given the proliferation of Apps, the learning environment is shifting.  Phones are going to become smarter learning devices and our students will be using them to explore ideas, gather and exchange relevant data needed to enhance their personal learning.  They will use them to build their own learning environments and, as they do, they will be developing skills needed to become lifelong learners.  Along this path, ethical applications of all electronic devices must be foundational.

While students engage in their learning and their ethical uses of their phones, I will submit that given the specific nature of semester  exams in an IB high school, phones always need to be collected!   Short cuts and finding ways to cheat are an age old issue in schools.  This is a real issue and another ethical matter entirely!!!  I won’t be surprised to find collections of digital devices on teacher’s desks for the next few years during those IB and semester final exams!

Finally, as we consider ubiquitous connectivity and the proliferation of web-enabled devices, we must consider the potential of online learning and online classes.  Take a look at this fascinating video about the power of online learning and online courses.












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