Thursday, 14 April 2011

Mobile technologies and handheld devices for ubiquitous learning: Research and pedagogy

I wrote this foreword for W Ng's interesting book "Mobile technologies and handheld devices for ubiquitous learning: Research and pedagogy". Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global Publishing. At the time it was clear that the progression to embrace hand held devices was universal, but since then there have been rumblings about a universal ban in the UK (which cannot possibly happen, the genie is out of the bottle and even the most obsessive Minister will not call for the searching of every teenage bra!. However, even headline seeking sabre rattling around bans makes this all the more pertinent.

Anyway, here is my foreword:

Education doesn't have a very good track record with innovative technologies. A few folk reading this will be old enough to remember being banned from using the "new" ballpoint pens for fear that their cursive script handwriting might be ruined. Others, later, may have been prevented from using their slide rules, or in still later years yet had their calculators confiscated, or told that it was the "wrong type" ("we don't allow programmable functions here I'm afraid"). Education has had a track record of first confiscating, and then appropriating, emerging technologies. Even the potential that computers, and laptops, offered became tamed by a mass of "managed services" and by a stultifying focus on a small suite of tools for office workers, rather than perhaps the freedom of tools used in creative industries, or in play. For many, the power of moving image was reduced to weakly animated text on a Powerpoint slide. Even the remarkable, free, open world offered by the World Wide Web was rapidly closed off by massively filtered internet provision and by parallel "equivalent" services. "We have our own YouTube" authorities would proclaim, literally blind to the 10 hours of video contributed every minute to the real one.

Education's question, faced with most emerging technology, has traditionally been a simple productivity view of "how can this new thing usefully improve what we are already doing?", rather than "what new things might we now do?". The excitement of games became tamed to "spelling space invaders", the art, installation and celebration potential of a computer plus projector was reeled back into an interactive white-board and so on. It has always been relatively simple to achieve this appropriation of new technologies, because the pace of change was rapid but manageable. We had only been on the gentle slope of an exponential curve that is now, finally, beginning to steepen very rapidly indeed. On the gentle part of that slope we had plenty of time to reflect on quite small technological changes - and to head off perhaps the perceived dangers of that potential change. I remember a debate running for several years in the early 80s about whether we should have colour of monochrome computer monitors! People suggested that colour might be damaging for students' eyes! But now that we have reached the steep bit, where the Technology Progress against Time curve leaps skywards, we have but the blink of an eye to make sense of huge leaps in technological capability, and that changes everything.

Mobile technology is the first to appear in our classrooms and to successfully resist education's hunger for appropriation. It is the first technology already on the steep part of the exponential curve. When I put some of the very first "luggable" phones into a classroom in early early 90s the children saw a potential right away: "we could talk to people in France and improve our language skills; it wouldn't matter where they were, or we were, we could talk about what we were doing" they said, eyes alight with excitement. Education didn't give up the fight easily and produced the usual list of hokum to justify the usual bans: txting would ruin children's prose, radiation might fry their brains; when TV used video to show fictional fights and incidents it was "drama" when children did it it was "happy slapping" and so on. But mobile technology is essentially personal, portable and powerful. As schools were fretting about txting children were already social networking. This time the pace of change meant it was all too easy for the children to remain one step ahead. And they did.

Today of course mobile phone technology is an integral part of very many classrooms: children summarise their understanding, snap images from the board, blog their field trips, bluetooth to their teachers, do day-in-the-life projects through their phones with other schools, sample and exchange data, and - as this book reveals - much more besides. This post-Google generation see a whole new potential for themselves as learners and they see much of it lying beyond the structures and strictures of the old education system of the last century. Mobile learning has already shown itself to be a watershed in learning - the moment when the leaners, finally, had an authentic say in what the future might be like. The biggest certainty we have as we move forward is that education won't appropriate this next tidal wave of change. Tomorrow will be a very different place. This excellent book gives us some hints about what kind of place that might be.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Stephen, thanks for posting it. It made me feel old though - I thought children used their phones for fraping their mates and arranging trips to the pub ;-)