ICT is perhaps the fastest-growing phenomenon, the inherent characteristic of the third millennium. For today’s children and now even for their parents, the internet has “always existed”. They are truly a new dot-com generation, and as such they cannot even begin to imagine life without instant communication and access to information tools. Thus the question of whether to allow the use of phones and any other mobile devices in the classroom seems to have become rather academic. As with all the more traditional and simpler teaching aids some strict guidelines are usually in place. For instance students may use calculators at a mathematics test, a dictionary while writing a composition; no smart phones are allowed in the classroom at an examination. Teachers and the school administration need to move fast and to be quite flexible in establishing rules and regulations, and in implementing them. Recently several schools in my country reported an alarming trend: instructed by their parents, pupils would come into the classroom with their mobile devices hidden in their pockets, and turned into the recording mode. When modern parents began to visit the school administration with those recordings, the teachers reacted by doing the same: they recorded everything the children said. This created quite an impasse, but fortunately it led to the emergence of new guidelines.
Let us take a step back and mentally recreate absolutely everything we say in the classroom, especially at the end of the day. “You two nuisances stop this immediately!” This was one of the phrases my own EL teacher used to say to two very disruptive boys; that’s also how I first learned the noun “nuisance”. I wonder how this admonition might be misconstrued today.
Mobile devices can be a blessing and a curse. But since we are dealing with the young people who are virtually attached to some gadget, why not use that fact to our advantage? If we try to put a blanket ban on them, we shall get the usual reaction. Students will surreptitiously use them, not always for educational purposes. I peeked into a classroom recently. An old teacher was grading some tests while his whole class was sitting there with the tiny ear-buds in place, obviously listening to music – and doing their exercises. Well, music and mathematics go well together. As long as they don’t block off any explanations, the new material presented by the teacher, I would say it is all right to use their gadgets as aids.
A good way to use any mobile devices as educational tools is to create a class padlet or wall. We may begin by telling our students what a padlet is: an app that enables users to create an online bulletin board (a wall) to display information on any topic. We can find lots of videos on Youtube, and choose the one that suits our purposes. Considering the usual attention span of our audience, I would say that two-three minute videos are best. If you are dealing with a very advanced and tech-savvy group, maybe they can explain the whole concept to the class. Before we proceed it might be a good idea to check that everybody does have a device. If somebody does not, the teacher can always suggest the use of the school computer. Alternately we can start with the school internet lab, and then proceed to using individual devices.
• Step 1 is choosing the main topic for our padlet or wall. We may decide together if we wish to post only notes, or pictures, audios and videos. NOT all of them at once though.
• Step 2 is explaining what Safety means in the virtual world. Children should understand the importance of signing in and out, of the chosen nicknames, of not giving out any personal information.
• Step 3. We should explain what mutual respect and responsibility mean, and tell the students about your own measures in case something inappropriate is done. For instance when my second-grader posted gleefully his note, “Maria you are a fool!” I quietly asked him if he wanted me to instruct the whole class to post the same kind of note addressed to him. It worked.
• Step 4. Set the limits for the size of the notes, like 150 characters max. If pupils wish to post pictures, again check carefully and tell them what size is acceptable.
• Step 5. Once the whole class posts their thoughts on the topic currently studied, or simply constructs sentences with the new vocabulary, they will have a chance to see their joint work at the end of a lesson. This usually produces a great impression and even causes the feeling of wonder and awe in younger children: “Look, we have done so much together!”
• Step 6. We can let them play with the padlet, move the notes around, decide whether they wish to post illustrations or photos, and where those should go.
• Step 7. We can then ask if they want to create individual padlets and what they would post there.
The opportunities are endless. If we use the existent and constantly evolving technology wisely rather than try to ban them from the classroom, we may find out that our lessons become richer and more fascinating for us too. To reiterate, the new teaching aids are fine to use on a daily or weekly basis. The main obstacle we have to overcome is the teaching plan which often does not include smart phones at all! At an examination, the students are to show how well they learned this or that subject and whether they can demonstrate their knowledge independently, without reverting to any tools.
Nina MK, Ph.D.