Mobile Technology in the Classroom

I remember when cell phones first started appearing in schools. At the time I was a backpack toting student myself, struggling to define my identity in that most toxic of social environments: middle school. My family was too fiscally conservative to equip my brother and me with our own cell phones, but I distinctly remember the “cool kids” walking through the hallways showing off their latest devices.

Of course at the time the Nokia devices were used more to play “snake” in their tiny night-vision-green screens than anything else. There weren’t many other people with cell phones you could call (plus all your friends were with you in class), and the texting phenomenon was still years away.

My mother’s advice to alleviate our plight: here’s 35 cents, use a payphone.

Nowadays cell phones and other forms of mobile technology are ubiquitous. It’s not uncommon to see elementary and even kindergarten-age children sporting their own cell phones, digital readers, and iPads. Wireless networks in schools are pervasive, if not robust, and communication is taking place on these platforms at unprecedented levels. The result is a whole generation whose lives encompass both a flesh-and-blood existence and an accompanying virtual identity.

Students are glued to their devices, and schools have taken notice. While the first reaction from school administrators and educators is often to do away with allowing use of the devices altogether, some schools have taken a different approach. Just recently Dysart Unified School District in Phoenix, AZ began a program to allow students to use their phones in class. Students can use the phones to conduct research, participate in quizzes, and give the teacher instant feedback.

And why not? If part of the responsibility of academia is to equip students with the tools and skills required to compete in a global and increasingly technology-dependent world, shouldn’t students be allowed, nay encouraged, to adopt and learn the latest tools involved in shaping the global economy?

Isn’t it the educator’s job to learn about and adapt to the latest technology affecting their students’ futures? And while it’s true that it’s the lesson that’s much more important than the delivery, shouldn’t we be teaching today’s youth with today’s tools? After all, we no longer use the abacus, the slide rule, or the overhead projector.

What do you think? Feel free to leave comments in the field below.