While schools nationwide experiment with leveraging the latest technologies in the classroom, researchers believe this is the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to technology in the classroom. Yes, tablets, online videos and virtual classrooms are becoming more and more common and allow classroom education to be nimble, engaging and cutting edge, but for educators to fully leverage technology to increase student engagement, they must also consider technologies that are seen as a nuisance or for entertainment only like mobile phones and gaming consoles.
Matt Galligan, co-founder of SimpleGeo, says, “The future of mobile is the future of everything.” Galligan sees a future where mobile will pervade every facet of life, from communication to wallets to car keys.
The PEW Internet and American Life Project reports in its Teens and Tech section that “78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of them own smartphones.” There are now over six million mobile subscribers, write Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, authors of The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.
For teens, the phone is the social device. One teen shared, “I use my phone for all of my social networking. I don’t use a computer or an iPad for that.”
Since the go-to spot for mobile social is the phone, not the tablet, this might be encouraging news for schools incorporating tablets into the learning environment.
Cooler Than a Tablet
Schools exploring and experimenting with tablet implementation are stepping into this mobile future, entering uncharted territory and embracing a learning environment that is nimble, fast, unpredictable and vast. There is a lot of ambiguity at play.
As schools continue to develop strategies for the best ways of utilizing tablets to enhance learning, understanding the role and place of the phone in the lives of students can provide insight into how to construct “the network” of tablets.
Phones are ubiquitous, small, easy to carry and easy to hide. And the timing of when teens get a phone is instructive. The tipping point is often in between sixth and seventh grades. In Teens and Mobile Phones, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that the average age when “a typical American” gets a mobile phone is between 12 and 13.
By the beginning of seventh grade, the common refrain among teens to their parents is, “All my friends have a phone, why can’t I have one?” This is a tough spot for parents.
Up until seventh grade or when a teen first gets a phone, computers and tablets serve as the gateway to gaming and social networking for many kids. For schools, this has significant implications, as fifth and sixth graders using tablets will designate the tablet as their mobile social device to be used, not as a tool for learning, but instead as the window into the sophisticated and distracting world of social gaming and networking. These younger students might utilize iMessage or Gmail and its many permutations in the form of Google+ or Google Hangout.
The Lure of Connectivity
What these students are encountering for the first time is “digital empowerment.” Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen introduce this concept in the early pages of The New Digital Age:
Digital empowerment will be, for some, the first experience of empowerment in their lives, enabling them to be heard, counted and taken seriously.
The default for kids is to share. It might be a silly video, a game, a photo or a scene from a party. There is a feverish intensity to sharing and fear that not sharing will lead to fomo, the fear of missing out.
And for teachers working with fifth and sixth graders, the task of holding and maintaining student attention is that much harder. These 10- and 11-year-olds are experiencing the dopamine rush of the tablet gateway, and to pull them out or away from the temptation to open a new app presents challenges.
Schmidt and Cohen capture the central challenge for institutions attempting to manage “connectivity”:
As global connectivity continues its unprecedented advance, many old institutions and hierarchies will have to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant to modern society.