Teachers – Leave those phones alone!

Talk about a catchy waffle post to get your attention! It is, of course, a Pink Floyd reference to another brick in the wall – not that I was or ever will be a Pink Floyd fan but I am a fan of technology and there has been a topic which I have been wanting to write a waffle about for some time but have never felt I knew how to phrase/write it. Well, today I have decided to bite the proverbial bullet and write it – should learners use their mobile phones within sessions…

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Whole cohort lectures

Whole cohort lectures

I need to set the scene for this waffle. First – I’m focusing mainly on higher education here rather than primary, secondary or further education. Any reference I make to sessions, I am meaning my own sessions that I teach/lead. As previously mentioned I am techie person and although many people suggest that I ‘disconnect’ for awhile, I really thing that would be awful to experience. In a recent #LTHEchat I answered the question – “which device could you not be without?” by saying my iPhone. This, as well as iPad and one laptop at least, accompany me where ever I go and I like that and find it useful. What I am planning to do within this waffle is pose some questions and some possible answers. I’m not saying I know the answer to this debate about mobile phones, but I will be interested in everyone else’s views and experience on the topic so, as always, there is a comment box below.

  • Technology Enhanced Learning – I’m currently reading ‘The Really Useful #EdTeach Book’ which discusses the role of both the learning technologists and technology within learning. The chapter written by Peter Reed links the work of the learning technologist to teaching and this is where I see learning actually being enhanced by technology. Learners and practitioners need to develop their own understanding and use of technology in order for it to have an impact on their practice and/or learning. I wrote a waffle about developing your own style of teaching and even wrote a magazine article about it. If technology is not your thing then you don’t have to teach with it – but should we then impose this onto the learners? Should the learners not have the option to use their mobile devices within sessions to support their learning if this is how they learn? I’m going to waffle about how they do actually use them in a second, but I just needed to first establish that I think the choice needs to be with the learner/practitioner and not be imposed by either one onto the other. I would never suggest within a session that I didn’t want any pens or paper used – maybe this analogy is too extreme, but I feel it makes my point.

  • Supporting or distracting – Allowing mobile devices to be out within sessions can send two messages, one which is linked to learning and one which is not. I use technology within my teaching and it is useful for the learners to engage with this with their own devices. Also, I am happy to allow the mobile devices to be out on the table for the learners to use these to support their learning – this could be from using calculators and making notes, to adding items to their ‘to do’ lists or checking information on the internet. In a world where we are always ‘connected’, having the mobile devices out can also lead to distraction as messages pop up from twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, emails arrive or friends, family and colleagues text and call. Although many mobile devices have functions to stop these, with VIP access through this ‘block’ for important calls, few of us actually use this function. I think it is important however, that it is not actually the device which is causing the distraction. Yes, it is buzzing and vibrating, but these can both be stopped and in the end, it is the user that actually engages with it. Maybe even I should model this, switching to work/learning mode when required in order to reduce distractions for both myself and others.

  • Engagement– I really do try and make all my sessions engaging for the learners. My last session was an information session about the assignment and I apologised at the beginning since I know that it just had to be straight forward and a lot of me talking in order to get the information across. When I was working in primary school, I used to get used to checking the engagement of the class and being flexible with my timings and activities in order to move the learning on. If the children were losing interest then I would change what I was doing, stop talking or move them onto their independent tasks. I still do this within my sessions now in higher education, changing approaches as concentration waxes and wanes (phases of the moon reference :)). I do, however, think that no matter how engaging I try and make the sessions, I can not compete with the current trend on twitter, the photos from last night’s party or the conversation on snapchat. With these I am constantly fighting a losing battle. I could, of course, ban the use of the mobile devices within my sessions, but I feel this is contrary to everything I believe in. I can only conclude from this that either my sessions are not engaging enough or the learners do not want to engage. Many learners do engage fully, with or without their mobile devices active but, with a small number, I appear to losing the battle of engagement. I mentioned at the start that the ownership of the use of mobile devices has to be with the learner/practitioner but I also consider that with this ownership comes responsibility of their use. Just the same as talking within sessions, we don’t want to distract or impede other learners with our mobile devices, so maybe just accepting this responsibility and leaving the social interaction to a more appropriate and often professional time would be a suitable solution – and I include myself in this.

  • I’m not sure if I have communicated my thoughts clearly throughout the waffle so I think a summing up section is needed. These are my own personal reflections on this topic and do not represent anything else.

  • The decision for the use of technology to support either the teaching or the learning needs to lie firmly with the practitioner/learner respectively.

  • Use technology itself to reduce the distraction and support our own teaching/learning

  • Engage fully with the learning and do not give in to the temptation of technology at inappropriate/unprofessional times.

  • I hope I haven’t ruffled too many feathers with this waffle. I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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