Take a listen to this segment of CBC KW’s The Morning Edition – (disabled, because I can’t figure out how to disable autoplay)
While I applaud (and loudly proclaim) the continuing message that digital literacy is a necessary tool for students to have, I think we missed a more subtle shift that has been happening in education. To get to a place where mobile devices are used, and BYOD is taking hold, we needed to shift from the computer as an end to itself, into the computer as a tool to augment what is happening in the classroom.
We can see this in the movement taking place to change the landscape of how students access computers/devices during the school day. For the last 30 years, computers en mass have been kept to the confines of the lab setting. You would take the students down to the lab, and access when you could book time. Much of the time was spent learning “computers” i.e. mouse skills, word processing, data processing or possibly some games. It made some sense because it mimicked what was out in the working world. Computers were desktops, and you only had access to them when you were sitting right in front of them. But very quickly the devices became smaller and more powerful. Desktops gave way to portable laptops and laptops have given way to smartphones and tablets.
This device change brought access to the internet and the “Tsunami of Information” (<-- love that phrase, stole it from another CBC doc) to our fingertips. No longer are we (teachers) the gateway to information. Skills that were less necessary before, like trusting information found in school (see My Artful Curators presentation, and my favourite Hemingway quote), are now moved to the forefront. I know that I use my devices to access information like never before so why shouldn’t students expect that? Labs don’t make sense anymore. Students aren’t tethered when they access the work at home, so why do we do it at school?
So what do we do with labs? In the WRDSB, many schools have started to dismantle their labs in order to move the computers closer to the students and now we have been given the chance to go even further. Schools have opportunity to trade in desktops to get multiple iPads or Chromebooks per computer. With school learning spaces blanketed in wireless, students now have the chance to use the right tool at the right time.
This change requires that subtle shift in thinking. We now think in terms of devices and not computers, and this democratization of information is important. I no longer have to be the bearer of knowledge, but someone who can pass on the skills to find what is necessary. This access makes learning teacher AND student directed, rather than just the former. I know that students have started to request to use devices for situations that I wouldn’t have thought of previously. I hope we will get to a space where picking up a device becomes as natural as grabbing a ruler or calculator once was.
We are moving towards giving our students the best advantages to succeed into the world they will graduate into. Digital Literacy gives them the ability to wade through the information that is there, and make decisions for themselves about what they need to know.
Postlude: I am glad that the segment brought up equity of access, because it is an important topic. The WRDSB has provided each elementary school (by the end of this school year) with 40 iPads (20 iPad 2s, and 20 iPad Minis). This helps to supplement BYOD policies so that everyone gets a chance to work with, and access the technology.