iPads, iPods, Smartphones and Other Classroom Gadgetry – Jason T. Hilton, PhD


I can remember when cellphones first began to make their way into the hands of school children. As a teacher, the faculty room conversation often centered on how times had changed, how spoiled children were, and how we must keep these cellphones from being a classroom distraction. As districts struggled with policies to prevent electronic interference – the cat and mouse game between teacher and student began. First, it was ring tones pitched too high for old people (i.e. teachers) to hear. Then, students learned the “hoody trick,” where they would use the raised dot on the center 5 of a cellphone dial to navigate the creation of elaborate text messages by touch alone. Honestly, I always felt this was rather crafty. Finally, as smartphones removed the dot, students learned how to text and browse Facebook from inside their purses and backpacks. All along, teachers like myself were doing their best to stop these devices from disrupting the education process by quickly dealing with any student who dared to bring these “devil-devices” out.

Then it happened… one day I was teaching about Ancient Rome – gladiators if I remember correctly. It was a riveting lesson of that I am sure. I looked out over the classroom and right in the middle some disrespectful student had the nerve to be openly texting! Well… as a middle school teacher, my classroom management strategy consisted of a quick balance of humor and peer pressure and it was time to begin this student’s latest lesson. As I quietly and quickly worked my way around the room behind this unwitting child, ready to make some loud public statement to embarrass him, my view of cellphones changed forever. As I got closer, I realized that this student was using his smartphone to look up more information on gladiators as I was teaching. Indeed, this is where MY latest lesson began.

Our world is one that is now mediated through mobile computing. Indeed we live in a world in which our online identities and in-person identities blend nearly effortlessly. Lower level knowledge and concepts that used to take hours to look up are available in seconds by asking Siri a simple question. And, perhaps most importantly, the people we wish to help our students become will no longer be shaped simply by person to person conversations. Instead, they are also created through virtual profiles, discussions, and interactions. In today’s world digital literacy – the ability to question, understand, and create through technology – has become the functional literacy of our time. What once was a classroom distraction is now a classroom necessity.

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