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I teach English in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school, and that means that there is wireless for all kinds of devices: notebooks, kindles, laptops, and phones. Internet access is open along with social media sites, except Facebook, since many teachers use them for resources or to communicate with students. There is a school policy requiring a 9" screen for classroom use, but students access their cell phones throughout the day.
Once class has begun, students can be online for tasks assigned by a teacher. What is not surprising is that, like students of previous generations, they might drift. For example, while their parents may have passed notes on bits of paper, this generation texts their notes. Their phones are a continuous source of temptation, the same way that their phones will be a temptation in the real world when they leave school. Educators recognize that students must be trained in the effective and appropriate use of technology, yet, with the exponential changes in the use of technology in education, educators may not know or practice the best strategies.
Students, however, often develop best practices in the use of technology themselves. Students can surprise us.
The good example of this sort of surprise is the message of recent holiday ad by Apple. In the ad, a Christmas family reunion begins with the arrival of a family including a teenager preoccupied with his iPhone. He looks to be missing out on all the festivities: the sled-riding, the cookie-decorating, the dinners, the snowman-building (although he does have the carrot for a snowman's nose in his pocket). But, on Christmas morning he presents his family with a video he has filmed to celebrate the reunion. In a twist of perception, the video shows that he has not been distracted by the phone; he has recorded and edited all the family events in making the "Harris Family Holiday". He even makes Grandma cry in gratitude.
The short commercial is brilliantly cast; the teenager looks like any one of a number of my students. His head is constantly bent over the glowing screen; he looks up only briefly to acknowledge a word or gesture thrown in his direction. He could be in my classroom...so is he an example of the distracted student or is he an example of creativity in my classroom?
The commercial is both an attempt to sell iPhones as well as justify the perception of distraction. "You are mistaken," Apple is telling the viewer, "the iPhone is not a distraction; the iPhone is a tool." In an advertising paradox, Apple is telling the truth...the iPhone is both.
I have witnessed students in my class be completely distracted by this kind of tool. I have also witnessed them use these tools to complete assignments beyond my expectations. I have been as surprised as the family in the holiday video.
Perhaps the most important lesson from Apple is that the "every-teenager" featured in the commercial does the video on his own. There is no assignment. The video is his gift to his family. His choice to use this particular tool for a specific purpose illustrates the goal of a 21st Century education.
Apple has provided teachers with an example of a student practicing 21st Century skills in this holiday commercial surprise.
That Apple is also promoting the iPhone should not be a surprise.