"Everyone remember where we parked..."

The title of this post is a somewhat comedic quote from Captain James Kirk, as the crew leave their invisible starship parked in a public municipal park, somewhere near San Diego. (You couldn't make this up... but in this case I guess someone did). Where technology is concerned, it's important that we remember where we came from. 

Unlike the crew in the movie Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, we don't need to go back to our origins, but it's nonetheless key to our future success that we recognise our history and our trajectory. The long evolution of communication technologies has brought us to the point where we now carry universal devices in our pockets. If we compare what we are now capable of to say, 30 years ago, we have to concede that smartphones are a powerful disruptive innovation. Smartphones have utterly transformed the way we interact with each other, access information, entertain ourselves and conduct business. But is education being left behind in these advances? Have we forgotten where we parked?

Certainly smartphones can be used inappropriately, for example in cyberbullying and for other nefarious purposes. These are problems that would not have occurred without mobiles. But imagine 30 children in a classroom, each one with a smartphone. What is to stop teachers encouraging kids to use their smart phones in a controlled way, for example to vote, or as a tool for peer messaging, or to connect with media that they cannot normally access in the classroom? How about showing kids how to use their personal devices to improve their learning, rather than to create mischief? And yet smartphones are still banned from many classrooms.

Mobile phones were first designed as a tool for communicating to others while on the move. They were the next natural step up from the car phone. But today's smartphones have evolved into much more: You can send text, gain access to the Web, capture images and video with your camera, orientate yourself by using GPS systems, measure and document your daily routine, engage in augmented reality experiences. In effect, today's smartphone is a mobile office. As educators we would be very foolish to ignore this hugely disruptive potential. Other technologies have similar potential for positive disruption, and yet are largely ignored or forbidden in formal education contexts

Wikipedia, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, is a disruptor. It has its opponents, many of whom vociferously attack those who espouse it. It is a threat to conservative notions of knowledge and has the potential to undermine elite expertise. The basic philosophy behind Wikipedia and the general practice of user generated content is that everybody can be an editor and a commentator. This sways the balance of power between experts and non-experts, between teachers and students everywhere, because it rejects the privileged role of former knowledge mediators and contradicts the traditional idea that knowledge can only be generated by certified experts. People who take an interest in a certain subject are able to generate knowledge about it - and consider themselves capable of doing so. In an educational context, the more students generate their own content, the more they are likely to learn. 

There are many reactions to disruptive innovation. There are those who willingly embrace change, in the educational and academic sectors and also in corporate learning. But there are other who put their heads in the sand and don’t want to see what happens around them. Others don’t accept the idea that students have the same status as lecturers. They don’t like the idea of Wikipedia being referenced (in academic assignments) because they don’t trust anything which has not been through a formal process of peer-review. Of course, what I write on my blog is not formally checked, a departure from publications in scientific journal which will normally be subject to two or more peer reviews. But in fact my readership reviews and comments on my writing, and for me, this is more valuable to me than a formal peer review. There is more immediacy to this form of peer review and there is also a personal connection between me and my readers. 

The use of learner centred technologies such as social media, smartphones and cameras will be vital in the future of education. The personal nature of handheld technologies, coupled with the immediacy of content discovery, production, remixing and sharing, ensures that smartphones will have an important part to play in the future of learning. The extent to which we succeed in breaching the barrier of resistance to change will decide just how such tools will be employed in formal educational settings.

Education in the future will demand much from the smart phone. It is personal and portable. It is versatile and easy to use. It will be the platform for many future developments, such as context-aware technology and augmented reality. Potentially, these are hugely disruptive innovations. Soon you will begin to see more virtual content around you - overlays on billboards, in airports, on sightseeing venues. If you take your students on a visit to an art gallery, the virtual information about the exhibits, the artists and other details will be embedded into the frame of the paintings you are looking at. At the end of the visit you will be able to return to your classroom to download all of the information about what you have seen and decide what you are going to do with it. Education is notoriously conservative, but with some application, over a period of time, technologies can and will disrupt old, outdated practices, so we can change them for the better. 

It's useful to remember where we came from, to gain a perspective on just how far we have travelled. If we grasp every opportunity as it occurs, we will go far.

Photo by Laitr Keiows on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
"Everyone remember where we parked..." by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Brian Hipkin said…
The time has come to understand the sociology of disruption in Education particularly in Higher Education. The more the technologies used by our students present and future become a "way of life" the great the gap will become between definitions of knowledge and how it is gained. Students versus the Academy. For me the greatest disruption will occur when we see how the administration of our Universities,the systems not the people, cannot cope with new models of learning such as the flipped classroom. Everything from assessment,timetabling through to reporting and funding either requires or is based on `linear` models of learning. Degrees of disruption are related to the forces maintaining the status quo.
Liza Loop said…
Try spinning it this way. A classroom is a technology just as much as a smart phone. Classrooms have hardware (walls and desks), software (books, films and exercise sheets) and 'wetware' (teachers, guests and fellow students). We need to ask what this technology is good for, how to deploy it optimally, use it cost-effectively and when to replace it with some other technology. It's quite obvious that a school classroom can't compete with Wikipedia when it comes to providing textual and video information to those who can read on topics accessible by keyword. It can't beat video games for engaging young minds. On the other hand, classrooms are extremely effective babysitters that serve 'in loco parentis' throughout most of the developed world. The elephant in the room is that we can't admit that babysitting is more important to parents of media-enabled children than information dissemination or that playgroups, sports and hobby clubs, and family activities are better at socializing children than sitting at desks in an overcrowded classroom, pretending (or not) to be engaged in intellectual pursuits. There are some groups of children who learn school-mandated information and skills best in a modern classroom environment but are they the majority? Should the classroom be the "universal" technology for transmitting a society's common culture? Let's evaluate the institution of classrooms with the same rigor we apply to the adoption of new electronic devices. In some cases they are the right tool for the job, in others, not. When the classroom isn't providing the ideal environment for an individual learner, let's search for a technology that's a better fit. Maybe a child is actually mature enough to be studying at home alone or maybe Grandma can provide a quiet, supervised place for one, two or three children to engage in electronic and peer-mediated study. If we can break the mindset that the classroom is the only way to deliver needed life skills to our children we can begin to build new institutions that accommodate the communication and information storage devices that are already in the hands of most children. But you'd better hop to it, fellow adults, because the smartphone isn't limiting its educational disruption to 'Higher Education'.

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