Friday, February 20, 2009

Deja Vu

All the current controversy about mobile learning in schools seems very familiar. I have been involved in learning using technology since 1979 and heard that microcomputers were a fad, the Internet was nothing but porn, and now how terrible cell phones are. This was after the panic that calculators would destroy mathematics. (You might also enjoy a presentation (bottom of the page link) I gave in 1996 to a state board association. One of the quotes was from Federal Teachers in 1950 that stated, “Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”)

In the spring of 1996 (after a year of committee study) I finally got permission to put our college on the web. This was before the nice drag-and-drop tools of today, so over the summer I created over 200 pages using Notepad. (You can see is still today here.) I was able to do it ahead of time and under budget by doing most of it evenings and weekends. I knew it was the right direction and would be easier to get buy in once we had something to discuss and improve upon.

Just before school reopened in September I had a meeting with the President to show him his picture and what had been created. Waiting for the meeting I heard his assistant tell him that I was there to show him our new Internet site and he said, “Why would I want to see that – all that is on the Web is porn”? Earlier I had gotten the comment that there was no need to connect with the outside world, as our faculty from business and from manufacturing didn’t even communicate.

I got the same type of comment a year or so earlier when I set up the first Novell network. But I believed it was the right way to go, so preceded to gain approval. Obviously today everything is networked.

Now I feel much the same about mobile computing. These small devices are very powerful computers and we are already carrying them with us. Our students are as well. We are rapidly becoming a mobile society and these devices are becoming more commonplace in our lives. Businesses and government are finding how much more productive workers can be using these devices for communication, data gathering, information access, and yes, even learning and performance support. Some forward thinking colleges and universities have also begun to integrate mobile capabilities into their infrastructures.

We also need to look to Europe and Asia – and even Africa – for successes using mobile devices as a tool in education.

More great examples and research are needed to get past the fear and uncertainty of mobile connectivity, at least in K12. Many are working to address this as they have seen the potential. Kurt Squire and other UW-Madison GLS faculty, along with their graduate students, have rolled out the Mobile Media Learning site, “a community of developers, researchers, and educators collaborating and staying current on the ongoing developments of educational application of digital medias - specifically the use of mobile technologies.”

After all, we can’t expect to teach 21st century skills using 19th century classrooms and 20th century methods.

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