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16 April 2012
Mobile devices: the learning disconnect
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Today there are about 17 billion devices connected to the Internet. Soon, there will be so many that we'll stop counting.
Mobile is the technology which has promised so much for so long now; effectively this is the technology which has cried wolf for over 15 years. The long wait is now over. Today things are moving quickly, so much so that we now effectively have a learning disconnect. This is when a student says: "Every time I go to school I have to power down."
This just doesn't add up for us as educators. On a daily basis we acknowledge, encourage and celebrate the fact that our students learn in different ways. Students, even the very youngest, are arriving at our doors with higher levels of digital skills, able to access, communicate and collaborate accessing the net. Their learning patterns are not fixed by history, time or place. We need to connect with these skills and attitudes, with what they can do, accepting them as multi-tasking, connected, collaborative, 21st century learners. To be successful we will need to weave digital learning opportunities into the fabric of our curriculum until these are regarded as ordinary.
We've had computers in schools for nearly thirty years, yet success and growth have never really matched the promise and potential of these technologies.
Many teachers have struggled to come to terms with ever changing technologies; the majority have continuously identified opportunity and challenge although all too often individuals and schools were working in isolation or in small interest groups. The internet came along and things got a lot closer. Originally the internet was more of an activity. Now free platforms and low cost components have created a perfect storm, a storm which is fuelling rapid change, and a lot of disruption. This revolution in technology has transformed the way we can find each other, interact, and collaborate to create knowledge.
There used to be a comfortable logic to the way we interacted with people, places, and things. You wanted knowledge, you went to a library; you wanted to be social, you went to a club or café. You wanted retail therapy, to be a consumer, you went to a shop. These behaviours were imposed upon us by culture, society and geography.
Change is constant as the internet imposes itself upon the lives of every individual. Today a company can go from concept to market in four weeks: the Rockchip Android Tablet PC is a good example of this. Our positive response to these digital devices and the increasing power of the web is imperative. We need to ask ourselves as flexible, creative educators what are we capable of achieving if we truly embrace digital devices and connectivity?
Events, threats and opportunities aren't just coming at us faster than ever before. They are also less predictable, converging and influencing each other to create entirely new and unforeseen paradigms. The internet has given us a world of new learning potential: connectivity which allows us to 'be' in many places at once. Online with friends in the UK, scheduling a meeting in Doha, re-charging in Dubai. Our lives and our learning are connected by millions of invisible threads - which brings us to the present: we don't go to the internet anymore. The internet is now an intricate part of our lives.
Digital technologies are transforming the way we can facilitate learning. To our students these technologies are trivial: the boundaries between the internet and life are so porous as to be meaningless. People now reach for the internet using whatever device makes sense to them at that moment.
Educators need to embrace the opportunities available to empower our pedagogy with digital technology, enabling 'classrooms' to be boundless. Advocates say that the availability of technology which can call up the knowledge of the world's best thinkers with the click of a mouse, that can graph in two seconds what once took hours, and that can put scientific instrumentation in a pocket-sized computer shows that the shift isn't coming - it has already happened.
If we are capable of leaving our comfort zone to focus upon developing and creating new strategies for learning, we will redefine ourselves as potent 21st century educators. The questions we need to ask of ourselves are: Are we willing to risk change to meet the needs of the students we serve? To accept that we are Learners first and Educators second?
When we think we know it all, that's when the serious learning begins. It's time for teachers to power up!
Rob Stokoe is Director of Jumeirah English Speaking Schools, Dubai
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