Handhelds in the Classroom: Can’t Change World

There are innumerable ways that instruction, collaboration, higher-order thinking, and assessment are enhanced by having handheld communication devices in the classroom. Many have written about this topic, but it’s not something I want to get into now.

What I want to talk about is what the devices cannot do.

Despite news and blog headlines to the contrary, iPods can’t change the world. They do not take social action. When you turn the little wheely thingy and press the middle button, there is no option for ‘instant innovation’. You can’t send a text message which eloquently persuades an audience to fight for democracy. The app store is a store. It sells products. Period.

But this is not why we should keep our omnipresent devices out of our classrooms. Rather, it’s the very reason we should let them bring them in. If the machines were powerful enough to take the place of what we expect of students themselves, then we should fear them. Keep them out. I agree.

Pedagogically, I am discovering that it is all the little, almost invisible things these devices allow for that truly make them empowering. What is more, putting the internet and/or a wireless network into the hands of students means you cannot control them any longer. You can try all you want to pre-determine Point A and Point B and pave every step of the path that leads from the former to the latter, yet it won’t work. They simply stop looking to you the teacher as the director of the play, let alone the beacon of knowledge.

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