More Opportunities Belong in Learning Environments

I have the honor of keynoting the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine's MAINEducation 2011 conference. I wrote the short article below for ACTEM's Electronic Educator September 2011 newsletter.

As a former Nebraska fifth grade teacher and current Arizona resident, I've been envious of Maine's ten year old laptop initiative. The state understands the power of integrating technology and learning. In fact, that's what Mobile Learning is all about—using tools at hand for educational and productivity uses.

The first reaction from those in other states when Maine's laptops are mentioned is, "How can they afford that?" School systems are scraping together as much money as they can to put technology in students' hands. At the same time, most of them ban students from bringing their own computers and devices into their own learning environments. 

Sure, there are some legal and networking reasons for being reluctant to let students bring in the very technology that schools are struggling to finance. But, there are many more reasons for allowing students to learn with their own personal tools. As a learner I would feel angry, deflated, belittled, and offended if I could not use my phone, laptop, tablet, and online tools as I see fit in my learning environment.

More and more schools are empowering their students by turning their frowns upside-down on personally owned devices. With smartphones, iPads, handhelds, laptops and the like always available to students, opportunities for learning increase.

Opportunities for Personalization. Students access content, software, and apps that meet their needs. In the case of Apple and Android devices, there are about half a million apps to choose from. Learners deserve a choice in what and how they learn, and mobile learning can facilitate personalized learning.

Opportunities for Expression. Students can express themselves and share what they have learned in so many ways, including audio recording, moviemaking, and document creation. There are even great online tools for making animated cartoons and super cool apps for creating digital puppet shows.  

Opportunities for Productivity. Mobile technology gives access to tools for organization and for getting things done efficiently. In addition to the typical note taking, calendar, and planner uses, savvy students enter their notes directly into a flashcard app for easy studying. Talk about being productive!

Opportunities for Access. Having technology readily at hand makes its use a commonplace occurrence instead of a special event. There's no seeking permission to go to the computer lab or waiting for the cart of laptops to be wheeled in. Most adults don't have those kinds of roadblocks to technology, why should students?

Opportunities to Use Real-World Tools. Personal and mobile devices are certainly everywhere today. People in the real world use technology for real tasks everyday. I think that school should mirror the outside world as much as possible because "playing school" fails to prepare learners for the reality of life. 

It's true. Technology in schools is typically bought, owned, and controlled by the school. Many are focused on deploying class or one-to-one sets of iPads, iPod touches, tablets, and laptops, but I think this mindset is an intermediate step to eventually having students provide their own technology. Not just because of expense, but because students will have their own technology they'll want at their fingertips. The technology they will bring will be highly portable and what students do and create will be digital and shareable. It will be MOBILE, and that's a good thing because More Opportunities Belong In Learning Environments.

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