It may seem that I’m beating a topic to death, but the more I think about it, the more Gary’s blog can have the effect of dampening the adoption of a major revolution in the world of educational technologies. For example, when he brings up the issue of affordability, Gary is probably wearing his Apple hat and thinking that some kids won’t be able to afford a $300 (or $100) phone. This is true, but can kids afford to get the iPhone 3GS? Since the price has dropped to zero, my guess is they have the budget for that. If one buys into the argument that the 3GS is an outdated phone (interesting since I’m still using mine and will likely do so for some time to come), then just look at the Android phones where much better capabilities are also available for free.
Of course there are the monthly charges, but there are also different plans from different vendors. If the bulk of student work is going to be done using WiFi, then a minimum plan should do the trick, especially since 3G data service is so pitiful (and Apple refuses to adopt 4G capabilities.)
Taking the long view, I’d rather put my energy into getting e-rate plans approved for student personal accounts to help offset some of the cost.
The real issue has to do with how these devices are used, not whether they are a good idea. Yes, it is far too easy to use them for information search and retrieval, or reading e-books. But what about using them as tools students can program themselves? I’m involved (informally) with the AppInventor project started at Google and now at MIT’s Medialab. This programming language makes it easy for kids to not only build their own cool apps, but to share them with the world. Just yesterday I wrote an action-based simple videogame – it took about an hour to create and debug. Believe me, kids could do it faster!
So what is the real issue here? Students are bringing in their own devices with the expectation they will be allowed to use them. This knocks full-frontal teaching for a loop. The time we spend arguing the inevitable would be far better spent helping teachers learn to use these tools in ways that support student creativity.
And with this, I promise to move on to other topics!