Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
– Henry David Thoreau
Yesterday, I was the student I’ve heard teachers worry about as they describe the detrimental effects of lifting prohibitions on mobile devices in the classroom.
Two-thirds of the way through 3-hour class, in class discussion, someone made an interesting point I hadn’t before considered. The point wasn’t made directly to me or even in my general discussion. Within the lecture hall, the content of the remark was diluted by follow-up comments moments after it escaped my classmate’s mouth.
I’m not sure what the follow-up comments were. The initial remark made me curious and I started following my questions around the Internet. Browser tabs began propagating one another, and I soon had enough information to qualify as deeper understanding.
I knew something about what my classmate said that I hadn’t known before I started poking around online.
I hadn’t followed or heard a single word of the discussion once I’d tuned out; yet, I’d kept on learning.
What’s more, once I returned to the conversation, I was able to bring more information with me and deepen the level of discourse.
I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty for tuning out. The conditioned student in me worried the professor would notice I wasn’t following the conversation and be upset or cold call me to bring my attention back.
That’s where my dissonance lived.
I was learning, but I wasn’t in the conversation.
I was on topic, but I wasn’t in sync with those around me.
After class, the whole thing stuck with me. The kind of augmented learning I did isn’t possible or even allowed in most classrooms. Teachers and administrators are worried access to tools and information will lead to distraction in the classroom. I’ve taught long enough with cell phones and instant messenger in my classroom to know there’s some truth to that.
The experience also taught me the need to shift my game. If I was doing things or sharing information students’ points of access could provide, I was wasting my time. Constant information access meant I could focus on what we could do and build with that information. It meant we were free to ask better questions.
That’s what I did last night, deeply engaged in my learning and worried those around me would think ill of me for asking questions to build the fund of knowledge.
Not paying attention, as it turned out, didn’t mean I wasn’t learning.