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Digital Media in Schools: Deconstructing arguments, overcoming limitations

On Monday I have provided an invited keynote during the media-concept days of the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Bergisch-Gladbach (Germany). I have tried to focus in my presentation on two pervasive arguments which are very often repeated by teachers and learners in the school context.

  • The first construct I have discussed in my presentation was the often discussed inter-generational problem of digital natives vs. digital immigrants. After a short summary of work by Prensky (2001) and Veen (2006) I have tried to deconstruct the hypotheses of an existing inter-generational problem. I have used for this purpose media usage and ownership statistics that show on a purely quantitative perspective (number of time using digital media, online-time in general, use of mobile devices etc.) indeed a kind of digital divide between the teens and twens and the older (teacher) generation. If we study this media usage qualitatively we see that a lot of time is spend by purely leisure-related activities (being with friends in social networks) and for the rest there is much time spent on passive consumption. As a summary I have refered to the excellent publication by Rolf Schulmeister (in German) who has deconstructed most theories about this inter-generational divide. In a later discussion with teachers from the school, we also found out that most young teachers are already "born digital" which confirms the argument.
  • The second construct I have focused on in my presentation was the paradoxical situation that schools always have the feeling that they are lacking behind with their infrastructure. A lot of investments have been done in the last years to build up a basic infrastructure with wireless internet, computer rooms with beamers and sometimes smartboards. But still, the discussion about the "updating gap" for the infrastructure is repeated and repeated. Many ideas to use digital media in school are not implemented because of infrastructural limitations. At the same time, a huge part of the learners in schools are having a mobile device that they use very, very frequently (see my presentation below for details). In combination with new device-independent services and mobile apps huge opportunities are lost because manys schools still only focus on "undesired" using practices of mobile devices. What is missing is a strategy to define and allow desired usage.

For this purpose I have briefly presented the discussion of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and I have provided some examples for using mobiles in the classroom. My presentation used during this talk is embedded below.

In addition I have given a workshop for teachers focusing on concrete usage scenarios of mobile devices in the classroom. I had two times approximately 20 teachers in these workshops. We have focused on 4 usage scenarios which groups of 5 teachers could explore for about 20 minutes - afterward the devices have changed groups. Here are the four usage scenarios:

  1. Rapid content production and editing (Audi & Video including rough editing on the device itself)
  2. Exploration of the environment and gaming scenarios (using Augmented Reality and SCVNGR)
  3. Interaction opportunities with classroom response systems (we have used Socrative)
  4. On the fly production of learning material with ShowMe

Afterwards we took around 10 minutes to discuss the value of the senarios for the teachers. This was a fruitful discussion and I am keen on exploring how they have integrated these ideas in their teaching.

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The problem with using these apparati in schools is demonstrated in research by Ellis, Daniels, and Jauregui (2010). They studied exam results of two groups of students attending a university class lecture. Half of the students were allowed to multitask in the form of texting during the lecture while the other half were not allowed to text. Regardless of gender or GPA, exam scores of students who texted in class were significantly lower than the exam scores of students who did not text in class. While mobile devices can have a purpose in education, one must consider the "side effect" that you cannot stop students from also using it for other purposes at the same time, and those other purposes can have very strong negative effects on learning.

Ellis, Y., Daniels, B., & Jauregui, A. (2010). The effect of multitasking on the grade performance of business students. Research in Higher Education Journal, 8, 1-10.

Posted on 5/3/12 3:26 PM.

Hi Paul, thanks for the pointer to this study (available here http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/10498.pdf). I was surprised to see a relation to the topic of multitasking. The study has indeed analyzed if students were able to listen to a lecture and at the same time are able to answer questions in a quiz via SMS. The problem with the study is from my perspective that it compares a multitasking setting with a non-multitasking setting. This does not prove any effects of the mobile technologies. An appropriate design would have compared the use of mobile phones with the use of other activities during the lecture (e.g. answering questions on a paper sheet).

In addition, I would not recommend to use mobiles only as a side-track during lessons, but to dedicate some time for activities that are undertaken with the mobile phones. This does indeed not prevent misuse of the phones for other activities, on the other hand, if the phones are occupied by a group of learners to conduct a specific learning activity it is much harder to use them at the same time for unrelated activities.

Posted on 5/3/12 7:38 PM in reply to Paul Kirschner.

The problem is, even though you want students to use their devices for one - possibly very didactically well-reasoned purpose - you cannot prohibit or stop them from using it for other purposes like texting, surfing, facebooking or whatever. And that is the reason why more and more institutions are stopping students from using laptops or tablets. They find that the negative effects of misuse are so prevalent and unstoppable that they are willing to sacrifice the possible benefits. Just look around you during a lecture or even a meeting and see how many people are doing their email while they are supposedly taking notes. And these people are academics! If they cannot help themselves (I can also send you a nice study showing the relationship between FB and self-regulation skills) then how do you expect pubertal and adolescent kids to be able to?

Posted on 5/3/12 7:49 PM in reply to Marco Kalz.

In the US several schools seem to make good experiences with GSM-etiquettes in which the appropriate use of mobile devices is fixed. I have to say that I find the discussion in general a little false-faced because it is suggested that students have before the use of technology in class not used opportunities for distraction. Do you remember the small folded letters that have been passed around during boring lessons? That was the facebook-wall in its pre-digital version.

Posted on 5/3/12 8:15 PM in reply to Paul Kirschner.

I agree with Marco. In my opinion it is about avoiding distraction in a pedagogical way, and using the opportunities in a pedagogical way. Recently Iprovided a workshop with the title "O, die verleidelijke technologie": http://www.te-learning.nl/blog/?p=5151

Posted on 5/7/12 8:19 AM in reply to Marco Kalz.

OTEC OTEC-werkgroep
The school where my daughter follows her study has new rules since the first of april: during lessons mobile devices must be stowed in the student's safe. They found the distraction issue to big. Is that the end of TE-learning?

Posted on 5/7/12 2:41 PM in reply to Wilfred Rubens.

No. It means use the right technology in the right environment under the right situation and context. All tools are most powerful when used in the right situation. Is a classroom with all of its possibilities (or the possibilities that it should have) the best place to use a smart phone, especially seeing as how users (even me) are not able to withstand the pull to use it for other things?

Posted on 5/7/12 3:06 PM in reply to OTEC OTEC-werkgroep.

Can you please post with a real account and not a group-account?

Posted on 5/7/12 3:30 PM in reply to OTEC OTEC-werkgroep.

Sorry, the post was mine: Jurjen Puls

Posted on 5/8/12 7:07 AM in reply to Marco Kalz.