Reluctant Time Travelers

Life has changed, so why hasn’t education?

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis 

FM Drexel SchoolIf I decide to dine out and I am not sure where, the first thing I do is google area restaurants on my smartphone—a few more taps and I’m making a reservation with the maître d’. If I’m shopping and grow curious about a particular product, I QR scan it and read up on all the details. When I’m simply walking about, if I see something I want to immortalize, I either snap a photo or start recording video. Further, if I want to share any of that, I post it through a tweet, a Facebook share, or I pin it on Pinterest—and, as you can guess, I use my phone to do it. Just sitting at a Patriots game these days is a whole new experience. Through my phone, I attach to their wireless network and engage with the game in all new ways. I check live stats of not only the game I am watching, but other games too, and I keep up with my fantasy football team. I sit (not necessarily at a Pats game) and read books, articles and magazines, tweets, websites and more from my mobile device. Life for my family and I is mobile—and smart.

Just like my own digital-age students, I too have become extremely mobile. All of my productivity happens either using my cell phone or the tablet I carry with me wherever I go. Although I came into this world as an early adopter of technology, I’m certainly not a digital native in the true sense of the label. I wasn’t born into a world of computers and mobile technology—but I’ve learned to adapt and mold with it. My students were born into this world where mobile devices are the norm. Owning one or, for many, owning multiple devices—is simply assumed.

Each of my three kids own their own iPod touch. My two oldest girls own their own Kindle e-reader and tablet. My youngest (six-year-old) son is always using my iPad. The kids share a cell phone with a digital plan on it—and my wife and I each own our own smartphone which they often use to access online games, digital content—or to research various topics. There was a time when my smartphone had a wireless tether on it that would be turned on and a wireless network was created anywhere we went. But these days, with the right plan, there is unlimited freedom to tap into the Internet.

Great expectations

My kids, as do many others, expect to have this technology available—and they use it constantly. They do homework on it, they use the calculator on it, they research topics on it and they watch countless videos on it.  They compete and collaborate with each other through their electronic devices. They are Face Timing and Skyping friends and family both near and far.

Distance and borders—which use to be a hurdle for us to overcome, have all but disappeared. Through the use of social networks, soon their digital footprint will be one that starts to build and inform others of who they are and what they are passionate about and what they do about those passions. In my home, we constantly have discussions about what this means and how important it is to be mindful of it. You can probably relate to all of this.

All in all, my children are being prepared for life in a digital age, and yet—when they step through the front doors of their schools they might just as well be stepping through a portal into a long-gone age.

You see, schools are not opening their arms so quickly to this digital transformation.  They aren’t allowing students thanks to federal regulation to access the Internet completely.  Responsible digital citizenship is not talked about on a regular basis.  They are not collaborating with others from far away places instantly or using mobile devices to instantly access a world of information.

The mobile devices they have from home are not welcomed in schools because educators are not always sure how to deal with them.  What federal regulations might we be violating? What access to inappropriate material might they gain access to? Who is on our network? What are they doing on that network? What do we do to ensure equipment is not stolen, broken or lost? 

I fear trying to answer some of these many hard questions. It’s often easier just to say that the device is not allowed or blame an inadequate network that would not support them in the first place. This route can be expensive. Do we bring someone in to help us improve our network broadband and give us monitoring capabilities such as what Enterasys can provide? Do we invest in giving our students mobile devices such as iPad minis so we do not have to deal with the BYOD concerns as much or is their a happy medium we can afford?

Meanwhile, our students…

While we sit here and debate these issues, try to figure out spending and budget, and reevaluate our ability to support a major switch in the way our teachers teach and our students learn—don’t look now, but we are losing our students. They are becoming increasingly disengaged. This is not the world they are growing up in. Opening a textbook, reading a chapter and then answering some questions using paper and pencil are foreign to them and not something that will help to create a love of learning.  We must think of change for education—and we must do it now.

I do not have a problem with my students bringing in their electronic device if it means they will be engaged, excited about learning, that they will carry a lighter backpack because I will not need to buy them notebooks, pencils, etc., as often. The heavy, outdated textbook in the backpack is something as a parent that I will actually be glad to see go. I want my child to see life for what it has become. I want their learning to become more digital, as it is at home. I do not want them tied to it at all times—but I do want it to be a possibility while they are away from me.

It is time for education to change and to get with the times before the times change again and education continues to be something foreign and outdated because a lack of leadership insists on playing catch up to a time and a life that is way ahead of it. I am sure we can figure this out more quickly than we have, if we all agree that the classroom of today should look very little like it currently does in most our schools right now.

Greg Limperis is Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district in Lawrence, Mass.  He is the founder of the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. Greg has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.

  • joebeckmann


    If you think schools are bad, libraries are ten times worse. It is certainly not bad to read books, look at magazines, or even use paper; nor do their meeting spaces lack value; nor does their capacity to advise and counsel readers, researchers, and other learners diminish in a digital world. Yet you’d think they were using a scroll and quill! They share library collections via computerized index, but they measure their capacity by the old number of old books. They offer language services in several dozen languages (using computers, of course), but rely on English as if it were both the largest and most “reliable” – in places like Lawrence and Somerville most surely it is NOT.

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