As a professional development manager for the New York City Department of Education Office of Instructional Technology, Lisa Nielsen is accustomed to either experiencing technology disruption within her own department or hearing of schools throughout the New York City School District that were forced to shut it down.
To Ms. Nielsen, a former library media specialist, the idea of enhanced learning through technology is second nature, and the notion of keeping it away from students is similar to holding students prisoners of their instructors' old teaching practices.
Speaking at January's TLI presentation titled, "Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning," Ms. Nielsen laid out her case for including cell phones in the classroom and encouraged participants to stop looking at technological tools as a distraction.
To enhance the use of technology in schools nationwide, Ms. Nielsen said it's important that educators adapt to the changing educational landscape. To do that, they must be as smart as a "screenager," meaning they should be adept at using mobile devices and screens for teaching purposes, and if not, they need to learn the tools that will get them to that point.
To successfully implement a policy that allows for the integration of cell phones and other devices in the classroom, Ms. Nielsen said schools need to "step out of the past and into the 21st century world of today's screenagers."
That involves obtaining secure parent/guardian and/or student agreements that are sent home as opt-out notices, developing a responsible use policy that both parents and teachers can understand, teaching students about safety and etiquette, establishing classroom management procedures with students, planning activities with students so that they take ownership of their work, and incorporating the use of technology into student and teacher assessments.
Encouraging educators to create what she referred to as "free-range districts," Ms. Nielsen said such environments allow students to bring their own personal learning devices to school, be they cell phones, iPads or laptops. In such environments, added Ms. Nielsen, students are not blocked from gaining access to websites like Facebook and YouTube. Instead, they are embraced as powerful learning tools.
Ms. Nielsen suggested that educators become familiar with many of the tools that students are already adept in, such as Google SMS texting; Twitter; ChaCha, a website that provides human-powered answers to a variety of questions; Voki, a free service that lets users create customized avatars that can be posted to blogs and websites; and Outsidemywindow, a project that connects people from around the world through photos.
"Obviously none of these suggestions are magic bullets, and you can't just drop technology into a district," said Ms. Nielsen. "There are many reasons for it to fail, but you must put the right building blocks into place for it to succeed."