The Mobile Disruption

My Twitter contact, Rafael Parente, brought an article to my attention just a little while ago about a conference, which Sarah Jackson reported on.  She says,

What happens next demonstrates how the availability of communications technology has grown exponentially in recent years: 89 percent of this group owns a mobile device, and they want to know how to use it in their classrooms.

“Two years ago, when we would do a workshop with 20 people, we would have to bring 10 devices. Now,” Gagnon says, “the 10 devices sit in the front of the room, and everyone pulls out their own. It’s just amazing.”

Read the rest of the article.  I’m cherry-picking, and I know it. It’s OK.  Read the article.

So let me recap: in essence, this is a program that allows you to write place-based games — to go out into a neighborhood, and encounter elements both fictional and real.  It allows one to build a guidebook to a neighborhood, a town, a city, a country… — and as long as you go to those places, you can learn from the game (or from developing the game), what’s going on in those places.  You can experience an alternate reality, or an augmented reality.

This is very cool.

But I’d like to point out that, at the very same time, there’s this professor of history living on food stamps.

And what this article misses, is that most teachers, in most classrooms, have neither the time nor the inclination to go out and learn how to be programmers.  Or designers.  Or game builders. And they spend so much of their time building and designing classroom experiences, that they are not particularly interested in building ‘augmented reality’ experiences for their students, or in learning how to teach their students to build such things.

What I think the article doesn’t capture, in its gee-whiz!-ness, is that the disruptive thing is not mobile devices in the hands of teachers, but mobile devices in the hands of students.

Teachers know that getting out of the classroom is important for kids, sure — but let me tell you, as one of five people trying to get thirty kids around Washington, DC, to see the sights and sounds of our nation’s capital, that teachers dread those field trips.  Even though we know they’re important.  Even though we know that learning happens far more effectively on those sorts of trips.  Even though those experiences are far more empowering of students than us.

Perhaps especially because these experiences empower students.

Phones in school disrupt all the normal activities. They make answers immediately available to any question. They facilitate ‘cheating’ – whatever that means in an age when huge amounts of relevant information is available.  Yet the number of schools which are teaching ‘research skills in the age of google’ seems to be quite small: because the schools are not ready to cope with the mobile disruption.

And now here’s this ARIS software, which proposes to make all the places which are not school, interactive and data-laden and rich, and accessible as learning opportunities for kids.  Which the majority of teachers in our school systems, public and private, are going to resist.

Because deep down in the leather armchairs of our souls, to use Douglas Adams’s phrase, we know that a kid with a mobile computer can and ultimately will learn more than a group of them will in a classroom with a teacher in front of them.  Mobile computing ultimately empowers kids and their parents to break free of traditional schooling in favor of homeschooling or unschooling — which breaks the very identity of schools, permanently.

Mobile computing represents the disintermediation of students and the things they’re ‘supposed’ to know… and the mediaries in this case are US, their teachers.

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