It was a few years ago while I was in Europe at a conference with several other educators, that I sat at a table while they all connected back home with people and information through their iPhones. I sat there with my Blackberry, that might as well would have been a brick at the time. Other than email, I just (at the time) couldn’t seem to do what they did with their phones. It was not that we weren’t talking to each other, but in fact, some of the conversation we had was much richer because of their ability to go deeper into discussion items, look up things that we were talking about, or bring others into the conversation from anywhere in the world. I decided that I wanted to be more a part of this “new” conversation and create a different experience for myself. I purchased an iPhone, started using it differently than I had my Blackberry, and I saw a whole new world of potential for my own learning. It wasn’t the phone that changed everything, but it was my way of thinking.
This mantra has stuck with me ever since:
“To innovate, disrupt your routine.” Frank Barrett
I was reminded of this moment the other day when I was delivering a workshop and one of the participants said that she was going to put away her device so that she could just pay attention and get away from work. I asked her what she had called her device, and she referred to it as her “work phone”. Then I proceeded to ask her if she saw it as a “learning tool”, to which she didn’t really answer. I had the same conversation with students years ago while working with them, and not one of them saw their mobile device as something that was powerful for learning, but more of a communication device. If they did see it as a learning tool, it was to use as a high powered calculator, and to “google stuff”. They understood the ability to consume, but not the power to create. This was one of the reasons why I felt I needed to immerse myself into these technologies and not look at a computer or a mobile device as “work stuff”, but as powerful ways to learn, both consuming and creating content.
Schools and classrooms will never look different, if our own actions and beliefs, look the same.
The “work phone” mentality is being transferred already to our kids. With many schools and classrooms using iPads or other devices to either push “apps” or house textbooks, kids don’t really see the power of what they have in their hands. I asked one set of students in a school that had 1-to-1 iPads what they thought of the devices and they had told me that they hated them. I asked why, to which they responded, “All we do is read textbooks on them. It’s boring.”
Sounds pretty boring. I would probably hate them too.
The “tool” is one thing, but the way we look at it is much more important. Are we trying to do what we did before better and faster, or trying to do something different?
When we started our “Learning Leader Project” years ago, each educator was given an iPad two months prior to the start of the program. Here were the instructions…Open the box, play with the iPad, give it to your own kids, explore, and do whatever you want. We did not “image” each device to be “work-ready”, but we wanted people to try things that they wouldn’t have usually done and give them the necessary time to play. This was a calculated disruption for the program. Did all educators play with them before? Unfortunately not because we have grown up in a system where compliance is the norm and people often wait to be told what to do. But compliance and innovation do not go hand-in-hand.
To be different, we have to think and act different first.
Today, after the announcement of the death of Robin Williams, I am reminded of one of my favourite movies and inspirations for becoming a teacher, “Dead Poets Society”. In the movie, this quote from his character, resonates:
“Why do I stand up here? Anybody? I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
Changing how we look at things is the first step in creating powerful and sustainable change. Maybe it is time to ditch the proverbial “work phone” and look at what we hold in our hands with a new perspective.