Disruption and the Zeitgeist – celebrate edtech debate

Tensions persist in discourse regarding mobile technologies in educational contexts. These distort ways of perceiving the technologies as helpfully disruptive. The debate centres around hype, with so-called traditional educationalists continually seeking evidence for claims of performance improvement that, actually, I have never seen expressed in any academic literature having researched the subject at post-graduate level for over 4 years.

A truth of our world is that social structures change from era to era. Order is deceptive. Like contours in the landscape disrupted in time, hierarchical rules and conditions are temporal and continually vulnerable to human and scientific knowledge that inform technologies. We aren’t determined by technologies, we keep in step with them. Technologies don’t exist autonomously; they are harnessed, as society advances, so that we influence (and define) them, rather than be influenced (and defined) by them. Thus, if technologies are disruptive, own and manipulate the ways they can be used. Appropriate disruption. Create structure from chaos. Disrupt any definition of mobile technologies as consumer-based, passive, recreational receptacles for gossip.

Adapting tools reflective of the zeitgeist may seem like a novelty, but is imperative to understanding and interacting with the world around us. To those who suggest that mobile technologies are distractions in the classroom, maybe they are not being utilised properly (Here a caveat: I am mainly familiar with FE and put aside debates in schools). A distraction from listening to a teacher, a distraction from a classroom, a distraction from focusing on an objective. Yes, potentially. Struggling to compete for attention? Ban phones. Prescribe Adderall. Draw the curtains. Or…

Disrupt the paradigm of learning that it is done to students; that knowledge is transferred from vessel to vessel; that communication is narrowly conducted via traditional means like essay-writing, memorised repetition, copying, answering questions approved by a knowing other; that students turn-up and learn, instead of becoming adaptable and selective of resources that can improve means of discovery and communication. I think, contentiously, that educators can be ego-driven and a classroom can be a soapbox. Nervous teachers talk too much. We put motivational posters on the walls reading ‘You can achieve anything’. We might add ‘…as long as you do it my way.’ OFSTED contributed to a culture of professional distrust based almost exclusively on a teacher’s ability to control attention, to engage, to transfer. It was about our ability to be interesting. Moreover, it was mainly about the teacher. There must be another way.


In FE, what needs to be nurtured is not a fixation on attendance – to turn-up and learn – but a transcendence towards anytime, anywhere learning. Mobility can facilitate that shift in mindset. How can students become self-reliant, driven, seek response and discourse, rather than arriving at a classroom and waiting to see in the opening minutes whether lesson objectives interest them today or not, like watching the opening minutes of a TV show? If he’s disengaged, if his confidence is low and behaviour appalling, if he won’t do anything, if he’s going through the motions, if he’s disruptive…kick him out. The other kids will eye his liberty jealously. BUT, he can still be involved from afar, right? Any time, any where...we don’t limit his inclusion; we improve the others engagement. They get more one-to-one face time. He gets to send texts openly in the Learning Zone.

Mixed messages? Yes, because the answers are presently unclear, hence exciting debate about where it’s all heading. Mobility, disrupting conventional systems and relationships, prompts this debate because we are in a zeitgeist of fragmentation and transformation. It’s providing unexplored original challenges and opportunities. I think smart educators see this; they are responding to this uncertainty by considering alternative versions of learning experiences. It’s challenging our own routine methods and coerces our own creativity.

This, to me, is not just about using handheld devices in classrooms – that is certainly not mobile learning. Mobile is  a verb and a vehicle (NB: Prescriptivist linguists, I know it’s not actually a verb). Mobile learning enables increased channels of communication, but it may better be presented as means to disrupt contexts fixed on teacher/classroom/institution. We may reconfigure what a classroom represents: a base to return to and situate our explorations, rather than a base from which all learning starts. This particularly so in FE, where mobility means access to real-world contexts, counterpoints from individual to cultural agencies and domains, improving – one would imagine – the overall self-determination and means to manoeuvre between hubs in a fragmented world.

You’re welcome.


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