The Mobile Phone in The Classroom Is No Longer On ‘Silent’

After several incidents involving student bullying via Facebook,  the principal has had enough. At the next secondary assembly he talks firmly and simply to the student body- He will not tolerate cyber bullying and there will be serious consequences for those who engage in this sort of anti-social behaviour. To leave no doubt as to the veracity of his warning, he nails a mobile phone to a one of the wall posts!  

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These dramas are played out in schools worldwide. Individualisation promoted by mobility and media convergence- someone’s uncensored outburst, disclosure or hatred, posted for a mass audience who has little context or connection to the situation- finds its target by traumatising or destroying another human being. In addition, there is the ‘always on’ banal chat of SMS or Twitter which seems to distract and destabilize from school-based modes of learning. Is another device what we really need to enhance teaching and learning? I approached the readings for this topic with some scepticism however what I have seen in my school and now understand from research, is that mobile devices are essential cultural resources and that schools need to find adequate curricular functions where mobile phones can be used as meaning-making tools (Cook J Pachler N Bachmair B, 2011). In best practice, teacher-guided instruction is not the perfect framework for all learning situations. The mobile mass communication context, supported by Web 2.0 and a plethora of apps, has tremendous potential for ‘situated learning’ with authentic tasks characterised by apprenticeship, collaboration, reflection, coaching, multiple practice and articulation. (McLellan, 1991) A ‘user’ can generate specific content with the use of a mobile device. After creating an image, text or video on a phone, it can be published almost immediately on the internet via YouTube, Flickr or Facebook. Micro blogs can be posted via Twitter instantaneously and be followed in a conversation thread. This emergence of ‘user- generated contexts,’ is tailored to the needs of the individual as well as the conversational community and strengthens aspects like articulation and reflection. This range of new mobile mass communications [social sites and media platforms] is known as the mobile complex (Cook J Pachler N Bachmair B, 2011) and the mobile phone is the physical key unlocking the learning potential of the mobile complex.

The most important reason schools need to find adequate curricular functions where mobile phones can be used as meaning-making tools is because mobile phones are a cultural resource for young people. Schools have always had a cultural responsibility in moulding attitudes and approaches to learning. A socio-cultural ecological approach to learning through individualised mobile, convergent media is the cultural resource of 21st century learners. Should schools continue to maintain a position of culturally conservative resistance?  Cultural responsibility requires a framework of new learning options for young people and especially for ‘at risk’ students. As the ‘third screen’, the mobile phone is a learning tool that can enhance ‘active learning’ for young people. The control or context of the user is ‘authentic’ location-based tasks where new learning is embedded into everyday life and the contexts of formal learning and informal learning, the teacher-guided world and the domain of everyday and entertainment are assimilated. The cultural responsibility of schools is to model the skills necessary to critically evaluate social, cultural and technological change. Schools are no longer the storehouses of knowledge and are certainly not the only place where learning can occur or be assessed but they can adopt concepts such as situated learning or collaborative knowledge building to help young people develop meaning of facts and events.  

In conclusion, although mobile phones are entangled with a culture of superficial small talk and world-wide entertainment, schools need to find adequate curricular functions where mobile phones can be used as meaning-making tools for two main reasons.  First, mobile phones can enhance active learning especially for ‘at risk’ students.  But most importantly, schools have a cultural responsibility and mobile phones are a cultural resource for young people.



 21st Century learners

Cook J Pachler N Bachmair B. (2011). Ubiquitous Mobility with Mobile Phones: a cultural ecology for mobile learning. e-Learning and Digitial Media Vol8 Number 3, 181-195.

McLellan, H. (1991). Virtual environments and situated learning. Multimedia Review Vol. 2 No. 3.