Remember when you got your first library card?
For “digital immigrants” like myself, the moment my town’s library entrusted me with my very own library card, I could explore the knowledge of the ages as it appeared on the shelves of the library. I was thrilled to be able to check out two, three, or even a dozen books at a time. I felt like I could conquer the world!
Teenagers nowadays experience that same thrill when they are entrusted by their parents with their very own smartphone. These kids are “digital natives” and they immediately see the value in having a smartphone because it facilitates their use of social media. Kids need to be connected to friends and peer groups. This is part of growing up.
In my day, kids used to furtively pass notes in class. If the teacher caught you passing a note, you would have to stay after as punishment. We understood that teachers weren’t opposed to students’ socializing. We knew that the classroom was a serious place and that we had to maintain our attention. But that didn’t mean that we gave up on our social lives. We learned how to do both.
In schools now, teachers respond similarly as our predecessors to the specter of distraction. When we catch students furtively texting in class, we read them the same riot act that was read to us when we were caught passing notes. We are not opposed to students having social lives, but we want them to learn how to balance their academic and social lives.
But smartphones are more than nifty texting devices. Today’s smartphone is much more than our first library card. It provides students access to all the knowledge of the ages on the internet. The smartphone brings content into the classroom that can enhance, deepen, and extend the lessons that teachers guide students through. Students are empowered not by merely possessing the smartphone. They become empowered when a wise guide helps them figure out how to use the digital device to find, understand, contextualize, synthesize and make use of the information accessed from the device. I use my device to bring me blogs like Teachthought and Edutopia, which have helped me develop my fledgling philosophy of digital learning. If I didn’t get my smartphone last year, I would never have discovered Twitter, I would never have connected to a world-wide network of educators, and I would never have started to blog as a way to engage parents in discussions relevant to the education of their children.
Still, many of my colleagues are on the fence when it comes to technology in the classroom. They use it to help their delivery of content but they are nervous about the disruptions that the students’ own devices may cause. This is a valid concern. But they sell themselves short as most career teachers are masters of marshalling student attention. So they ignore smartphones and ban them in class.
We mustn’t ignore smartphones any longer. We have to acknowledge that BYOD is not a fad. The smartphone is here to stay. Take a look at this list of the biggest trends disrupting education today. The trends on this list are not going away, even if we ask students to keep their phones switched off in their backpacks.
We as educators and parents need to help students re-imagine their smartphone for its potential to change the trajectory of their public lives.
We don’t have to have all the answers beforehand. We can learn how to integrate smartphones into the fabric of the classroom right alongside our students. We will model appropriate use and “digital citizenship” for them. We will acknowledge their desire to connect with friends and help them learn how to find a balance.
Those of us who ignore the potential smartphones offer us as teachers and learners, those of us who ban even the sight of a smartphone while class is in session, those of us who feel a bit disingenuous browbeating our students for checking a message during class as our phone buzzes in our pocket have to realize that we can’t hold back the tide forever.
The tide is surging and the smartphone’s watershed moment is here.
Coming next: How my students have used smartphones in class recently.