Digital Pocket Knives

QR Codes I’ve been wondering, when the mobile phone has shown such an amazing penetration rate, why students aren’t using their mobile phones as a digital “pocket knife” for personal and lifelong learning? Although our Internet penetration here in South Africa is disturbingly low, we are not “backwards” with cell phone adoption. The penetration rate in South Africa is an estimated 70% (only 17% of the population has a land-line), but cell phones use seems mainly tied to entertainment and personal communication purposes.

Today, with my PGCE class, I thought that I’d explore whether my pre-service students would haul out their phones and access data, URLs and email addresses. I created a gallery of 7 social media applications with associated codes to guide their introduction to each medium, and then left them in groups to figure it out.  I stuck my head out a few times (had to duck to avoid debris being thrown at me) and discovered that  great confusion reigned.

Only a few students owned phones with a QR code reader installed. Most phones were dinosaurs with no camera or (typically for a student) had no airtime left. Those that were able to complete the task with their digital “pocket knife” kindly dictated the content of the QR codes  to the rest of the  reluctant bunch.

Two observations

1) No one enjoys feeling like an idiot. Very little support or structure was given to students to make this fairly obscure concept more manageable. Learning curves are never fun, and it’s useful to think about ways that I could have made this learning curve a little less steep.

2) There seems a reluctance to see the mobile phone as something more than a phone. Despite many phone owners out there, few students were able to download the necessary apps to enable their phone. Maybe they resented the intrusion of “work” into their “personal” spaces? Perhaps Maybe user attitudes towards mobile learning need to be changed before people will want to start learning about how they can use their mobile phones.

What future does the mobile phone have, for learning? The availability and afford ability of mobile devices (when compared to desktop computers) should make these digital “pocket knives” a high demand device in a classroom? Or are they a threat?  Are you using your mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning? How do you feel about taking your phone out for learning something? Should learning tools remain tethered within classroom walls? Are mobile phones as sharp as they appear or are the blunt butter knives, keeping us fed and entertained. Perhaps the digital pocket knife is a silly analogy. Is it a utopian dream to expect mobile phones to usher in a new age of learning?

Certainly the exercise left me with more questions than answers. Be interested to hear what you think.