Using mobile devices in a lesson.

Walking along a street I overheard the following dialogue.

Two young men shared their observations at a café excitedly:

“Did you notice that dude in the corner? No smart phone, no laptop, not even a cell, no earphones… He was just drinking coffee! Must be insane!”

Indeed, we live in the mobile era, and we are used to seeing people of various ages anywhere clicking around or swiping a finger across some screen. In any classroom during a test or a boring lesson, we may see students unobtrusively plug in earphones and listen to some music or any other recording while writing or simply staring out a window.  

Commuters read eBooks, talk on their cells, fixedly stare at those small screens and type messages. Quite often we can see them multitasking, e.g. a person may have their ears plugged and read or type at the same time. When a teacher or instructor asks a difficult question, lots of students immediately take out their mobile devices to find the answer. Ask them to find any information, and again you will see them consult a device. If a situation occurs when not everybody has a device, they simply gather around the lucky one who does have it and either read the information or listen to their classmates read aloud and share what they found with the class. I believe the process is in full swing, and we cannot stop it. Asking the learners to bring in a device may be unethical because not everybody owns or can afford to buy one; it may also be against the school policy.

Basically we can classify the emerging new modus operandi into a few categories.

  • Practically every student owns a device; if someone does not have it the teacher should be sure that somebody else is ready to share. In such a case rather than fighting against the inevitable we may use it to our common advantage. Rule # 1 is still the same: your classroom, your rules. Meaning, allow students to use anything as long as they use it for the current educational purposes. Sure, some of them will manage to look up the required data plus check their email and social networks accounts in the process simply because they are either much faster than anybody or just not too diligent and consequently perpetually bored at a lesson. 
  • A teacher may own a devices or devices; it is allowed. If we are confident that we know which buttons to press and which icon to click, we may certainly use that to great advantage at a lesson. “Why don’t we check it on the web?” This simple phrase coming from a teacher invariably impresses students. I suspect they regard all of us more or less as dinosaurs and are surprised when we show modern skills. All we need is a clear idea why we want to use a device and not, say a book; we also have to know the exact amount of time we may allot to this activity.
  • If we do not have any device at our disposal nor do most of our students, we may allow their use by a few lucky ones provided, again, that we realize why we wish to introduce that type of activity. We have to be sure that the proud owners are ready to share. A word of caution: we should not suggest that they loan their smart phone to someone else. It is their private property; their parents bought it for them and allow them to carry it around. You do not want to cause any damage to this expensive “toy”.
  • In essence, the use of any new device or gadget is the same as using computers, the internet, e-boards and so on in our lessons. There was a time when a video or a tape-recorder was a novelty. Some twenty years ago the internet and its usage at a lesson were subjects of huge debates. Now nobody is surprised by e-learning, online and distance courses et cetera. This is called progress. Any educational aid may play a beneficial role in the whole process if used wisely.

Whatever we use at our lesson is defined by our own attitudes and skills. If we feel comfortable suggesting that the students spend a few minutes looking up this or that information, if we are sure that they all understand this is a lesson, not a free period, we should be fine. Mobile devices are ubiquitous. Recently I peeked into the pilot episode of “Iron Fist”, a new TV show made after Marvel Comics. Why? Naturally because my students talked about it animatedly during a break. I wanted to be able to maintain a sensible discussion with them. When we compared our impressions, it turned out that they never noticed a short scene which impressed me greatly. The protagonist spends a night in Central Park. A homeless man comes up to him, strikes a conversation and shows him an iPad or a smart phone. “Do you want to look up something? Let’s do it”, he offers. And the hero obtains all the information he needs right there, under a tree. When I told my students about that they all stared. “But this is normal!” The smart mouth of the class grinned at me cheekily: “Do you need to look up something?” He displayed his mobile device and waited, with the whole class trying not to smirk. Yes, this is normal. We just have to get used to it, and use it to our advantage. 

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