‘BYOD’ in schools, free ‘Candy Crush’ tablets for MPs – Maybe it’s a good thing

The BYOD – or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – movement has been gathering steam in schools. If you want to know my position on this, I put it this way: It could quickly turn into Bring Your Own Distraction’ unless we make sure young students understand what screens are good for, and what they are lousy at. Unless we teach young people how to engage with others, and the value of being able to dive deep into issues beyond simple search and scan, we will end up with a distracted workforce, and distracted leaders.

Speaking of whom, consider this: 650 British MPs will be issued iPads after the British elections in May. But apparently the Brits are concerned about distraction. (Just read the headline of this Forbes article, and you’ll know what I mean.) But skepticism aside, it’s about time elected officials are provided with technology that denies them the excuse for not staying in touch with the rest of us.

In my book, Chat Republic, I featured a prescient idea by a Sri Lankan journalist who said that we ought to make democracy more digital. In a nutshell, what Indi Samarajiva said was that the average citizen has a right to know how an elected acts on our behalf, in real-time! Here is Indi expounding on part of that idea.

Last December (21014) Accenture published a paper on ‘Government as a Digital Disruptor. It spoke of the need for an eco-system for open, collaborative, creative engagement. Read the paper here.

Hyperventilating about tablets in the classroom

You’ve probably read plenty of stories how tablets are shifting the tectonic plates in teaching. And ‘personalized learning.’

I hang around many all-things-digital folk, making rallying for ‘tablets in the classroom! tablets in the classroom!” I also talk to those anxious as desktops give way to touch screens in the class. My daughter’s class now does a math class on Dell tablets. My school has two touch-screen computer hubs.

And though I run a (tablet-free, for now) computer lab, I was a tad irritated by a statement by a fellow computer lab instructor quoted in a TIME article as saying “We don’t care about handwriting.” This was in response to a parent’s concern about screens in a classroom in California.

Not sure who the royal plural ‘we’ referred to, but Matthew Gudenis certainly doesn’t speak for me, or my school’s position. (Read The Paperless Classroom is Coming” in TIME this week.)

Gudenis should’ve read this wonderful piece by Susan Vechon, “Why Learning To Write by Hand Matters,” (in Education Week) who admits she stumbled on the connection between handwriting and the higher-level thinking after many years of teaching.

I’m not dissing tablets, per se. I would be the first to admit that classrooms need to use more of the technologies that young people encounter once they clamber back on the bus after school. But that does not mean dismissing the value of books and pencils, notebooks and research. If we are not careful how we present them, the tabletized learning environment could unwittingly turn students into consumers of knowledge, not producers of ideas and opinions. Touch screens can turn readers into content snackers. We need to create spaces where students could do some thinking and talking, apart from clicking and scrolling.

Twelve to fifteen years from now, these will be our human resources, our intellectual capital. They will be the ones generating your reports, formulating cogent arguments that impact communities, writing persuasive letters, covering the local news.

To say we don’t care about handwriting because kids today know to type, is like saying we don’t need to care about spelling and grammar, because we have auto-correct and spell-check. So let’s stop hyperventilating about tablets, and get excited about what we can do with them.


Update: Just came across this Discussion of Screen Time


Disrupting Education. Sorry, There’s No App For That!

It’s easy to get sucked into the belief (or is it group-think?) that apps are the only way to disrupt an existing business model, or that true engagement is all about stubby fingers on a screen.

I tend to take the contrarian point of view that tablets are not the thing that will change everything. We romanticize these pieces of glass too much. Waaay too much.

I come at this from two angles. First as someone who runs a computer lab, where the touch-screens will soon over-run the grey boxes. Second hearing first-hand what very young kids barely out of diapers, can do. At the Montessori school my wife runs, pre-schoolers show leaps of knowledge, grasping complex ideas in science, geography, and math, with no tablet in sight.

Against this backdrop I took a deep dive into the Khan Academy, and even got some of my 5th grade students to follow its curriculum. Online, mind you. The opinion I came away with is neither black nor white. It’s not about the screens. It’s not about the technology. It’s a lot more simple –and subtle–than that.

If you have fallen in love with tablets, you may skip this link below:-)


If you want to read about it, it’s in this month’s LMD Magazine, for which I write a monthly technology/business column.

“Disrupting Education. Why Schools Love It.”

Will tablets and smart phones kill conversations?

A few weeks back, I passed a sad tableau of an Asian family: a dad and two sons waiting for Mum outside a Chinese grocery store. All three of them were silently thumbing away on their iPhones. In cars, in waiting rooms, the tablet and the smart phone has become the new baby sitter.

Over the past five years, having reported social media’s many benefits I often have to step back and wonder about what it means to be too much digital.

We have become so used to being ignored while having a conversation with someone with a Blackberry that we sometimes take it for granted.

It’s not just an etiquette problem as some have alerted us to in the past few years. It’s a social problem that will have deeper ramifications –too much ‘media’ perhaps – as we marvel at how connected we are.

It generates caricatures such as this and this.

  • Smart phones don’t automatically make us smarter. (Perfectly captured in that Geico commercial that poses that rhetorical question.)
  • Likewise one more screen in the home won’t make us better informed. While we do see attempts to engage students better using tablets, social media and other digital platforms, parents and educators need to add some caveats. Teaching children media literacy would be a start.

There is a connection between learning to have ‘conversations’ and learning how to learn by deconstructing information presented –a.k.a. discourse analysis. I am planning to connect my Robotics class with a class in Thailand, soon, and have given much thought to the balance of a traditional class with a digital experience where students will talk to each other with and without digital devices. More on this later.

I will leave you with two great pieces :

Enjoy! And do send me your thoughts, comments.

iPad or eReader? If you had to pick one, which would it be?

I am getting perilously close to getting a tablet, but having held out for long enough, the choice just got easier.

I was never convinced about the early tablets for the simple reason that they just did not handle enough on the production side of things I would want one to do. I have talked to many about the fact that these were initially conceived as ‘consumption devices’ and every person I spoke to would add the “yes but…” factor. Meaning they put up with what an iPad lacked and found comfort in what it enabled.

But Amazon showed off the latest Kindle Fire last week, and it seems as if the debate gets  more complicated.

So now, instead of getting a tablet that also behaves like an eReader, I could get an eReader that works like a tablet.

The reviews give me plenty of backup for my bias, especially the fact that you get the Android operating system, and I could potentially get more out of the Amazon eco-system than Apple’s.

The only thing that concerns me is how Jeff Bezos positions the Kindle Fire. “We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet …We think of it as a service.” I can see why he said that, for market share purposes. It is better to create your own category than fight for space in a crowded one. But if it also meant that these devices were mainly on-ramps to the online store, then it makes it nothing more than a shopping cart camouflaged to look like a thin sheet of glass.

I could see where schools could find Kindles more attractive than iPads, if only because they have the promote reading first, after which follows sharing, research, note-taking, and content creation for collaborative purposes.

If you’re an educator, I’d like to find out on which side of the fence you are. Just recently, Teach for America (TFA)  members started experimenting with iPads.  I recently wrote about it, especially the emergence of an always-on classroom –first in universities, and every now and then, in high schools.

Send me your recommendations, your concerns, and your predictions!