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Should personal digital learning devices be banned in schools?

Posted by jturner56 on April 5, 2016

Yes according to some schools

Sydney Grammar bans laptops 3-16

Some other educators agreed, citing OECD insights and leadership comments. (Even though such comments had been qualified previously about the need for new approaches if value from digital was to be educationally successful. And clarified )

Perhaps banning (or maybe burning at the stake) is understandable if beholden to 20thC Elitism  and/or Rear-View mirror views of what education should be about; particularly if this has served self-interests, be it personal or systemic.

Change of any kind is disruptive by nature, none more so than with fast changing digital technologies which drive an Age of Ideas and Opportunity. No wonder problems ensue when this runs up against bureaucratic overlords that see curriculum straitjackets as the best we can expect (even under ‘progressive’ banners).

If we can see beyond this, though, we might see in digital technologies the potential to empower, personalize (in a social context) and provide opportunities to forge stronger authentic links and pathways.

This is not an efficiency issue where time will be saved, lesser effort will be required, or money will be saved. Education never been about the easiest replicatable route available.

It is not even an effectiveness issue measurable against segmentation and industrial averages. One dimensional K-12 solutions,  particularly if measured by externalised standardised testing, are simplistic and self-defeating. It’s a Socratic-type challenge while current education systems remain beholden to hand-written testing and boxed thinking structures.

It is primarily an empowerment issue as to whether students (and teacher with them) can be empowered:

• meta cognitively through using the visible cognitive feedback loops that digital interactions can provide
• through enabling students to create their own visible, connected learning pathways
• through wider connections to information and people
• through the power of personal publishing direct to authentic and interested audiences

This requires a curriculum approach that starts with a dialogue on what learning is valued and in what ways?

If Digital is then valued as part of a whole school approach, then a curriculum is required that empowers appropriate for the cognitive level of each student through  developing

• Digital Literacies and Citizenship
• Information Literacies appropriate for the age we live in
• Open-Ended Projects (Task and Challenges), including Publishing opportunities
• Opportunities for entrepreneurialism and enterprise

Such an approach would reflect a commitment to move from systems of entitlement (not just for some) to empowerment for all as learners. It needs to be more than just segmented allowances or optional add-ons.

This is not a new insight. Seymour Papert in 1970, through his research and working with children, saw in the computer  “something the child himself will learn to manipulate, to extend, to apply to projects, thereby gaining a greater and more articulate mastery of the world, a sense of the power of applied knowledge and a self-confidently realistic image of himself as an intellectual agent.”


If this is all too much, then digital technologies as personal learning devices might be the best we can expect as non-digital systemic education withers from the bottom up.

But the Battle of Ideas around what digital can provide for education will continue in forward looking schools.



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