About three years ago, while I was teaching education at a local college, I was attempting to do an observation of one of my students at her student teaching assignment. It was my first time visiting that high school, so I found myself running late in traffic. I attempted to call my student on her cellphone to let her know that I might be a little late, but she never answered. I texted her, but she never responded. This forced me to try to make it on time.
As I entered the high school lobby I found a structure inside that resembled Dr. Who's Tardis with a SECURITY sign prominently displayed atop. I approached it and told the uniformed guard why I was there, and that I'd attempted to call my student's phone to no avail. He informed me that it should be no surprise since cellphone use was banned for everyone in the school. However, that did surprise me. What baffled me even more was what I saw when I turned the corner from the Tardis structure -- a gaggle of students texting on their cellphones. It would appear that only the adults were adhering to the cellphone ban.
I believe that was also the year that a New Jersey middle school principal grabbed national attention as he not only banned all cellphones in his school, but also urged all parents to deny their children access to social media, because he felt it was unnecessary. Unfortunately, that attitude was far too prevalent among administrators in regard to mobile devices back then. Administrators often used the FERPA, CIPA and COPPA laws to justify the banning of technology. Upon a closer look at these laws, that may have been an overreach. At the time, I thought we might refer to this period of history as the "What the Hell Were We Thinking Era."
A Critical 21st Century Skill
Now here we are in the year 2014, and things seem to be changing for many schools.
It would seem that the smartphone is finally getting its due as a computer with telephonic capabilities. Our phones are used as computers even as our computers are now used as phones.
An interesting Nielsen study showed that in March 2012, a majority (50.4 percent) of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones. Mobile devices have also replaced desktop computers as the primary access device to the Internet.
With the acceptance of the smartphone as the truly personal computer of choice for most Americans, it stands to reason that educators should be modeling and mentoring its use for the very skills we are touting as "21st century." A digitally literate culture in a technology-driven society should be teaching its children how to use the devices of choice to access, curate, communicate, collaborate with and create information. Content is now accessible anywhere at any time. What to do with it when accessed is what we need to teach.
Educators no longer have the luxury of determining what content kids will be exposed to. Mobile devices have enabled kids to determine that on their own. Educators need to view smartphones not as a distraction to learning, but as an accelerator. Students can use their personal devices to personalize their learning. They can determine on their own what they want to learn without being in a classroom. The where and when about using these devices may need to be worked out for effectiveness in an academic setting, but banning should no longer be tolerated by communities demanding a relevant education for their children.
Digital Literacy for Teachers
Mobile devices have not replaced the need to learn, but rather created the need to teach and learn differently. Access to information is not the same as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some may consider it negligent to not employ these devices for learning. Banning these devices should not be tolerated. We need to teach our teachers how to use them to their advantage. It is shortsighted and a waste of time and money to place these ever-evolving devices in the hands of kids without properly preparing the educators to understand and work with this relatively new mobile technology -- and technology in general.
The need for digital literacy in order to live, thrive and compete is not only a necessity for our children, but also for those who must educate them. To better educate our children, we need to better educate their educators.