Earlier this evening, I came across this article on my MSN homepage. It describes a recent initiative in several Georgia schools that not only allows, but encourages students to bring their electronic devices, such as mobile phones, iPads, and handheld gaming systems to school for instructional use. I was immediately attracted to the article given our school's emphasis on technology.
We have recently acquired a few iPads and we are always looking at more ways to incorporate assistive technologies into our instruction. Our school also provides laptops for each student above the sixth grade, so we use such technologies as text-to-speech software and visual simulations often. I came across a blog post recently about sites that offer free group texting and I immediately started to wonder how students' phones could be used for instruction. We already have policies on the books at my school that such devices are allowed in school if permitted by the classroom teacher for instructional purposes. My point is, I am always looking for more ways to incorporate these skills which seem to grow exponentially in importance for each generation. I want really good ideas on how to use them.
This article, however, does not really describe how the devices can be used, just that they are encouraged. It also sounds like many of the students are simply bringing in their own laptops and netbooks to supplement the district's supply. Several parents and district employees are quoted as loving the new initiative, but again, no ideas are given.
I did some searching to find more information, but even the PowerPoint slideshows and links from the Forsyth County Schools' BYOT Resource Site weren't being very specific. Finally, I came across a video that at least got my brain moving in the right direction. The high school student uses the word "empower," and that got me thinking.
I have only recently joined the world of smart phones. I wanted a smart phone, but was unwilling to pay the huge upfront investment, much less the monthly data plan fees. I gave in around Christmastime and after the past few months, I finally get it. The smart phone is the organizer of the 21st century. It is almost unrealistic to train students to rely on a written student planner when I, almost 20 years older than the students, am using my phone to organize my tasks, schedule, lists, social calendar, and even my foods and workouts.
There are countless apps out there that may or may not be helpful, but I think the point should be to empower the students. Bad speller? Sure, you can use your spelling app. Visual learner? Why not graph that figure in a graphing calculator app. Forgetful? I can send a free group text to all students at 7pm just to make sure that the homework is done. Struggling reader? You can listen to an mp3 recording of that text or even watch a SchoolTube video of a lesson.
Maybe for our students, it won't be so much about what a phone can do that a laptop cannot, but more about where it can go and how much it is a part of the user's life. According to the experts, handhelds and tablets are where we are headed, so why not make them part of the classroom. Management is always a challenge, but it seems that the phones might even have a better place bringing instruction and assistive technology out of school. It's definitely worth thinking about...