A quiet invasion

This image shows students taking notes. Whenever I show this image, I see many people in my audiences nodding in recognition. It seems to be a familiar, every day occurrence in some classrooms. In others it is rare or unlikely, because mobile phones are banned in some schools and colleges.  

Teachers might respond to this image in two ways. Either they can bemoan the fact that they have spent an enormous amount of time developing the content, only for students to capture its entirety in seconds with just a few simple button presses. They will ask whether this a trivialisation of their content, or an undesirable development that leads to superficial learning.  Alternatively they can celebrate that learners are adept enough at using their personal technologies to make learning easier and more productive for themselves. They can support the idea on the basis that most learners will use that content later for reflection.

We might argue that the first response is based on a model of learning that privileges the teacher as the arbiter of knowledge, whilst the second response represents an approach that places students at the centre of the learning process. The first response, I suggest, might indicate that those teachers feel learning should follow a prescribed track of content delivery that is assimilated and ultimately re-presented by learners in an acceptable format to demonstrate that they have internalised that content. The second response suggests to me that students can be freed up to capture content, archive and organise it, repurpose and develop that content to facilitate deeper learning experiences, and share it with their peers to widen its influence in a discursive environment. Which model are you most familiar with in your classroom?

Personal technologies are proliferating and they are multi-functional. They are quietly invading the classroom, in the bags and pockets of your students. Mobile phones can be used for many purposes, most of which can either support good learning or undermine it. As educators we each need to ask ourselves some serious questions, such as: What is my attitude to student use of technology in the classroom/learning space? Am I threatened by its use, or do I feel comfortable when students use their personal tools in the learning environment? The answer to these questions will possibly reveal to you not only your attitude to personal technology, but also how you view yourself as an educator and as a professional.

For some teachers, students recording lessons is anathema, whilst for others it is fully encouraged. There are many who are ambivalent. What about students Googling what you say during a lesson to check whether you are correct or accurate or telling the truth? Some teachers feel that this is an undermining or their authority or a challenge to their professionalism. Others see it as a liberating and democratic approach to learning, where the onus is on the student to check all facts and to be critical.  Some see the use of personal technologies in the classroom as distracting, disruptive and potentially dangerous. Others see them as an essential, and natural progression of contemporary learning culture. Which are you?

Photo by Lori Cullen

Creative Commons License
A quiet invasion by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Tom Starkey said…
I'm in the middle - I encourage my students to use their own devices, research, fact-check, translate, read more widely etc. However, many don't know how to use these tools effectively in an educational setting and this is the only thing that really holds me back. I'm strapped for time due to numerous restraints familiar to teachers and can't afford to offer them training. It's a shame as it would stream-line a lot of what I do.

I regularly video sessions and screencast topics as many of my students have difficulty with memory retention and other issues such as dyslexia and social anxiety problems. It's appropriate for the job that I do; it may well not be for others. Teaching isn't a homogeneous profession and I know that there would be some who would never allow a class to be filmed or devices used that's up to them - they're professionals who know their students and what is an effective approach for their students.

Fact-checking is fine by me but my students know they better still be listening whilst they do it otherwise they may miss out on some of my epic awesomeness.

Thanks for the post.
Oliver Quinlan said…
I think there is also another reaction. I don't feel threatened by students taking notes by photographing resources like this, but I don't think it is necessarily the best way to learn things, and it certainly isn't if that is all you do. People remember and learn things that they interact with, as Willingham poetically puts it 'memory is the residue of thought'. Simply photographing something requires no real though about the content, and habitually photographing slides rather than attending to what they mean or doing something with them is not going to result in much real learning. It might leave the student with a large collection of photographs (which are actually quite hard to manage and categorise as notes anyway), but this is very different to them actually learning it.

Personally I like to take notes at lectures I attend by live blogging them (at http://www.oliverquinlan.com/liveblogs). I am not saying everyone should do this, but it is an activity that results in a high level of interaction with the content rather than a cursory collecting of it in a format that I haven't had to think about to collect and am unlikely to look at again.

I think that this kind of note taking has its uses, but is actually something which we need to discuss the limitations of as educators and with our students rather than characterising those that are against it as being motivated by fear or inadequacy.
Andrew at UC said…
I encourage students to use all technologies when taking notes but I think it is important for us, as teachers, to teach student how to use these technologies effectively. Photos by themselves are a waste of time (IMHO) but photos combined with all or some of text, scanned hand-written notes, audio and video can be a very effective form of note taking. I encourage my students to use Evernote to take notes as it allows all of the technologies to be merged, it is device independent and it synchronises across devices.

I would like to see research on note taking with combined technologies to see what works and does not work with students or different types of students.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Tom. Clearly this is polemical and intended to attract responses and contributions to the debate on active/passive learning (which was my real intention in writing this post). There is a spectrum of responses from colleagues, but underlying all responses, I suspect, are beliefs about what learning is, or should be, and how it should be supported. I'm looking forward to reading other people's responses ;)
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Oliver. See my comment above in response to Tom about the spectrum of responses we can expect from this kind of debate. I am with you on live blogging - personally I find Tweeting more likely to help me to remember what has been said, and when I revisit the archive of my tweets (and other people's RTs and responses) I often compose a summary and/or blog of the event or session. Whatever we decide to do in the future of education though, I believe personal technologies will play a major role.
Edublend said…
Someone need to continue taking pictures of what they do with the pictures they took in this pic.
Anonymous said…
Why not just send out the notes in advance and let the students annotate them during the lecture. Not a great way of learning, but better than taking pictures after the fact...
Steve Wheeler said…
I disagree. It may not be a great way of learning for some, but for others it's second nature. I have often captured images from someone's slideshow at a conference to reflect on later on. After the fact learning is sometimes the best kind.
Steve Wheeler said…
Agreed that not every student knows how to use technology effectively, especially for learning. Seems like teachers have yet another role then?
Edublend said…
its all in what you do with these pics, isnt it ?
Steve Wheeler said…
Yep, it certainly is ;)
Merf said…
I allow and encourage capture of discussion session notes and praticum sessions via photo, video, sketch ..whatever.
I think the key is to establish a group convention as to 'what is acceptable' in the capture and use of artefacts within the learning environment.
A video with inaccurate information for example may be useful as a critique tool etc...Group norms are developed within every group afresh. Student negotiated within broad institutional expectations. My last two years have had laptop or similar devices required as student tools. (Many have this expectation prior to being advised)
My student construct knowledge and present these knowledge artefacts within e-portfolio which provides an asynchronous place for formative assessment feedback from the tutor to be placed and a final grade to be attached
bill7tx said…
I have been using digital technology to capture things for various reasons ever since I got my first cheap digital camera "way back when." I don't think anyone can stop learners from doing this. In fact, it seems to me to be counterproductive to attempt to keep them from doing digital capture. I think the bigger question is, why not use what's going to happen anyway, and help it to further facilitate learning and accomplishment?

Maybe one should consider how the world has changed, even as one designs the curriculum. If you know that learners are going to be taking pictures of your visuals, shouldn't you take that into account both in the visual itself and in the way you use it?

In the old-style lecture course, why did you provide visuals? Was it to encourage reflection? Or was it to provide content in a way that might make it more convenient to memorize (and let's be honest, to test)?

In a world of digital appliances in the hands of every learner, and of multiple means of producing and distributing user-generated content, how might this change the way you conceive your visuals, the way you invite/require learners to interact with them, and the longer-term value (or not) of the visuals? A diagram that simply reframes the possible relationships between concepts or events is one thing, a diagram that offers a tool for reflection, discussion, and learner amendment is another, and a diagram that the learner will retain for use as a job aid or for guidance is another -- these will be three different diagrams, perhaps for the same concept.
Louis Pelissier said…
Knowing the content of what was on the board would help.

In the time before this scene was remotely possible, lost collaborative work when a board was "cleaned" overnight meant lost class time trying to recreate the previous days work.

The school may not provide the social media access, email, or other avenues of sharing. Imagine the students sharing this with friends and relatives, taking on the initiative to work with other students from around the world.

The debate of weather this type of note taking will help learning is very similar to the debate over highlighting text in a book. It can help focus, or delay learning.

The act of manually copying notes from a board onto paper can add a layer of interaction for some, or consume the mind with a task at a lower level of thinking.

Good or Bad? The question reminds me of the image of a duck or rabbit and being asked which do I see. One will pop out, but a small change of perception makes me see the other way.

Thanks for the ideas and the thought provocation.
Simon Ensor said…
I feel the more important issue here is how students are encouraged to connect, share, comment, analyse, remix their notes with communities.

If the picture stays on the phone, or the notes are kept to the individual many learning opportunities are lost.

Of course this all begs the question: should we be limiting a lecture, conference, performance to the classroom in the first place?
Karen Janowski said…
Showed this picture to my nephew who is a senior in HS and asked him his reaction. He said he might take the picture of the notes but he doubts he would look at it again. It's not how he learns.
Points to the fact, students need options. Different methods work for different situations and we need to offer choices that work.
Love the discussion your post has generated.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Bill. Agree totally with you on this.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Karen. Yep, in my experience too, some students use the images later for reflection and repurposing, and some don't. It's the same with any medium or technology. My thoughts: I simply need to supply as many different opportunities as possible and not exclude any just because I feel uncomfortable about my own status as a teacher.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your thoughts Louis. I tend to agree about the loss of content when the board is 'wiped clean.' We should also consider other affordances of technology such as the recording and sending capabilities of Interactive White Boards. I wonder how many teachers feel comfortable or confident in using that feature?
Steve Wheeler said…
Yep, same with any content. If it's not shared once it's captured, it benefits only the owner of the capture. This is the very reason I am so supportive of social media - we learn from each other, and we grow by sharing.
Alison said…
Yes, and then you'll have something like the infinite cat project: http://www.infinitecat.com/
Your point is probably the most pertinent. In this image I just see students capturing an image of a representation of a text, which probably reifies some form of knowledge that was once unique. Often my students take photos of classroom activities, but they are more likely to be their own contributions to a discussion. Knowledge is changed by participation and experience, not by ossifying into a smartphone. Steve - Don't repeat that you are provoking a debate - add to the debate please. I've read enough of your work to know that you have a wealth of knowledge on the participation as a metaphor for learning. This image shows simply another form of acquisition.
Steve Wheeler said…
Wow Alison. You *are* assertive today - that sounds like an order! ;)

Actually I think I *am* contributing to this debate, and here's another thing for you to think about: Participation is not just a metaphor for learning - it is also integral in the learning process, because without it, without interaction with content, peers, teachers and other components, we would all be a lot poorer intellectually.

And one more thing: Ossification of content in a cell phone is only possible if it is forgotten. The sheer impact of an idea on the mind can be amplified if the previously captured content can be retrieved and seen in its entirety later on in the learning process. I find personally, that if I can capture an image of a diagram, flowchart or concept map, it later helps me to reflect on what the concept means to me, and allows me to contextualise it.

Your move.
Alison said…
The problem for me then is how teachers can foster the sorts of reflection that you (and I) engage in from capturing an image for later consideration. Let's take the technology out of this for a minute. Seeing any image is to capture it, and the process of reflection brings it back to the foreground in another context. An example is the infinite cat, which immediately sprang to my mind when I saw this image and Edublend's comment, even though its been over 10 years since I came across the Infinite Cat. Professor Paul Gibbs talks about temporal play to illustrate how we develop 'know-how' or tacit knowledge and this is what i am doing now. Technology can support this process ( its an affordance in the jargon), and I am arguing here that a step is missing in the debate. Teachers need to have an understanding of the larger purpose and flow of simply 'capturing'. Forgive me if I get assertive again but teachers often think that because they can contextualise an image their students can.

Over to you.
Alison said…
Thanks Karen. I think I am making a similar point above. Not only do students need options, but teachers need to understand the nature of knowledge construction and cultural mediation in order to guide them with their options.
Steve Wheeler said…
I think the best direction we can take is to focus on the design and delivery of lessons. Many teachers forget that reflection is an important part of the learning experience, and there is very little 'tinker time' built into lessons. It is for this reason that I continually write about freedom to explore, time for play and asking the 'what if?' questions, permission to fail and a space for problem solving. At present, the National Curriculum, and the way that lessons are structured in the UK and other countries, militates against this kind of learning.

Secondly, not everyone has the same visual accuity, or iconic memory power. Some can capture an image/idea simply by looking at it once (a sort of eidetic memory skill) whilst others need to spend more time assimilating the idea by gazing at it. The problem with content delivered in a conventional lesson is that it is fleeting, and this ephemeral nature of 'the image' disadvantages some students. I don't think you *can* take technology out of this equation, because this is the point where such students can use image capture technology to gain a purchase on the content where previously they could not.
Jen said…
Technology is not going away. A large majority of students have phones on them- regardless of the school's policy. Designing you curriculum with technology in mind can increase learning. Many educators believe in transparency within their lessons. Technology can lend itself to this. There are many platforms where teachers/schools can bring students together for greater learning and synthesizing. Parents can get in on this too. When parents ask what the student learned in school they can SHOW them, which might spark more of a conversation; or the parent can look at the social media platform to ask their child specific questions about their learning.
Anonymous said…
Just because photographing a slide requires no real thought about its content, does not mean the photographer is not deeply thinking about the contents of the slide.

Of course every learner is different. Of course it's possible to simply photograph something and not think about its content. But it's also possible to be thinking so deeply about the lecture content, even without writing anything down, that one is grateful to be able to simply aim and click to capture a reminder of what was being said in that lecture. I'm a slow note-taker, and while taking notes I do tend to miss things being currently spoken. I'm grateful for my camera!
Terese Bird

Popular Posts