Quite often, the situation may differ significantly when several children have cell phones and one pupil from an affluent family possesses a smart phone or an iPad which naturally they are happy to demonstrate to the class and the teachers. Needless to say, they also use it at every opportunity whether they really need to or not. Children do boast. Someone may be happy because they get the top result in a test, and another one may draw everybody’s attention to their parents’ luxury car, for want of a better example. At any local state school in my area, one may observe a huge polarization between the majority of children from families of budget workers, and a few representatives of the rich. There are no private general education schools; only state schools are accredited to issue Certificates of Education. It means that all the children, regardless of who and what their parents are, attend the same schools.
Great wealth does not mean great intellect. Children are smart, slow, gifted, average, introverted and extroverted. One of my best students ever came from a family of hard working non-educated people; her mother was a cook and her father a lorry driver. She had no cell phone, no fashionable clothes or shoes, no modern paraphernalia at her disposal. Her academic prowess was outstanding, and her authority on several chosen subjects absolute. Her classmates were proud of her successes; those who had computers, cell phones and iPads invited her to use them. A boy from a very rich family would come into the classroom with his ears plugged by earphones, taking care to ensure that everybody saw his latest accessory. Nobody paid much attention to him, so he stopped doing that. Eventually he came up to me after a lesson and asked if we could all benefit from his new smart phone somehow. Quite often, in the case of just one student in the class possessing something ultra-modern, they would do the same thing: ask their teacher if it was all right to share with their peers. I would allot a few minutes for a demonstration. We would use the device if and when appropriate.
Some years ago, when computers and the internet appeared in every school, there was a great debate on how often, how long students and teachers could use the new technology. How to make ICT a part of the school curriculum, why take part in international projects, how to ensure that children performed the tasks set by the teacher, and not surfed the web for their own enjoyment or pranks. In order to use ICT at a lesson, we had to take the class to the specially equipped computer room. Many teachers would still not use ICT, being content with the traditional textbooks, audios and videos. Cell phones and then smart phones are a new step. It is now possible to have web access in any classroom if the conditions permit. Not every square centimeter of the planet has wi-fi or provides online access. Digital divide is a reality.
Can we use the smart phone as a tool for teaching and learning? Yes. If we are lucky to have one, we can share it with the students. Suppose none of them have ever used it. We can demonstrate its range of functions, walk around showing various useful sites, take pictures, listen to some music and so on. If one or several pupils are the lucky owners, and if they are willing to share, we may arrange group or pair work. Depending on the students’ age and level, we can suggest several tasks. Some may check all the new words in an online dictionary, like The Free Dictionary, and compare the results with what they have in their textbooks. One of the advantages of such work is, an online dictionary always shows several meanings of the word, while a school textbook may list only the one used in the current topic. Another pair or group may do a quick research of the theme at hand, and share their findings with the class. The possibilities are limitless.
How do we ensure that the technology is used for studying purposes and not for recreation or, heaven forbid, for some nefarious activities? In the same way as we ensure that the class performs all the tasks we set for the lesson. If you can manage any group of children, if you cope with the discipline problems, with mixed abilities, temperaments, tardiness and tiredness, you can use any new device to good ends. Kids will be kids. They will probably snatch a minute to contact their best friend while looking up a new word. “Cool lsn u?” is what I glimpsed on a smart phone screen. What’s not to embrace
Nina MK, Ph.D.