"The current generation is not tech savvy, they are tech dependendent"
These words help summarize the anguish that many educators have expressed with the explosion of handheld and tablet devices; including the smartphone. We can all agree to the distractive nature of these devices in a classroom setting. However, many will disagree over their place. Three questions linger when trying to decide if we are onboard with the use of such devices:
1. Can we significanlty reduce their distractive properties?
Reducing the distractive properties of these devices is the key. Notice, we did not ask the question, can we eliminate the distractive properties. The students of today have learned to manage stimuli in a unique fashion from a rather young age. Their environment growing up was significantly more distracting than the one the teaching generation grew up in. Therefore, we are applying old methods to a new generation.
One study sampled students in secondary education and asked them to take a test on a lecture they had just watched. Both groups were in the same room, both groups watched the same video-taped lecture. One group was allowed to check their email and text messages during the lecture. The other were not. Both groups were sent a text messages to their phone and emails. The group that was allowed to check their mobile devices, scored higher on the exam. Why? The need to check the phone impaired the groups concentration. They could not focus on the lesson because they knew they had a message.
Could this be a problem for your students whose phones are tucked away just below the surface? Is this part of what is impairing their ability to concentrate and attend the lesson? Take a tech break. Just like a small recess. Have two minutes where students can check their devices, reply and put them away, or better yet, keep them out and use them for the lesson.
2. Can we adequately ban them from our rooms so that the enforcement does not become a distraction?
As a high school and middle school teacher, I know that enforcing the total ban on cell phones is near impossible. The question becomes, "am I going to spend all my time policing the room for contraband?" I always chose no on this question. My bigger issue was to teach and make sure my students were learning. Arguing with a student over the possession of said phone is a waste of such time. Now, that doesn't mean I don't redirect. Focus the students tasks back on class and move on. You will never win this battle. Embrace the computing power and connectivity that these students have in their pockets. Show them how valuable a tool this is for learning. Engage them in their own connected environment.
3. Are we evolving our pedagogy to meet the needs of a learner that has evolved?
I attended a conference last year and the speaker said, "We cannot impart our values on a train that has already left the station." We must change and allocate our resources to embracing our teaching style and methods to reach a student that has grown up with devices like these. They are not going away. They only further proliferating our society. This is a disruptive technology. Disruptive in the sense that it disrupts the status quo and, consequently, causes change. The pedagogy must evolve to meet their needs or we will become irrelevant.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The problem is, it depends on our own comfort level as educators. Our students are tech dependent. They will gladly admit to you that they cannot concentrate as hard when they know they have left their phone at home for the day. They are worried they may miss something important (personal or otherwise). They need this device to be at ease.
The first half of the quote above mentions that "students are not tech savvy." This is important to realize. These are the tools of their generation. However, they are particularly weak communicators. They are also only savvy when the use of the device is for social means, but lack the understanding to construct learning. Let us show them how to use such a tool for learning.