Don't use technology to get with the kids, please

10th April 2009 at 01:00

I have a secret. I suspect that should now read I had a secret. Mentioning it in a newspaper column may not be the best way of keeping it.

It's more of a confession really. You see I'm only person I know who doesn't run their life through their mobile phone. Probably it's genetic. No doubt my ancestors pulled their firewood home on a sled when all their neighbours had a nice new wheelbarrow parked outside the cave.

It's not that I don't own one. I even make calls occasionally. But somehow, when that millennium clock ticked over into the 21st century, I seem to have got left behind. Mindful of the shame, until now I have sought to hide my secret from others. It's a bit like confessing to an outside toilet, or that you drive to work in a Morris Minor. "You mean you really don't take calls, send texts or wander the streets peering into the screen rather than looking where you're going?"

So, like the illiterate in a literate world, I pretend. When asked, I'm happy to provide a number. Of course, I have no idea what mine is, but I know how many digits to quote and that the first two are always zero and seven. And it probably helps my credibility that I give out a different number each time. People just assume that I'm constantly updating!

The issue has come to a head because of a provocative headline that appeared in this paper recently: "Lecturers see the benefits of mobiles in the classroom." The story was about a pilot scheme, funded by the Learning and Skills Council, running in nearly 100 colleges and schools, which uses mobile phones and handheld computers to support student learning.

It's unlikely that I am the only lecturer in the country to receive this news with unease. That's because we spend so much time and effort trying to keep the darned things out of the classroom. Despite the policy of absolute prohibition, there's always some muppet ready to make a dash for the door, handset to ear, shouting, "It's important".

That's the thing about mobiles: other people's calls are always mundane, banal, intrusive; your own are significant, fascinating, essential. For many students, receiving and making them is not so much a privilege as a right, a new human right, tacked on at the end of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So what do the 2,000 or so lecturers in the pilot actually do with the smart phones, personal digital assistants, MP3 and 4 players and digital cameras kindly funded by the LSC? Whatever it is, there's something to be said for it. In a survey, nine out of ten of them claimed that their teaching was improved by using mobiles.

My own big fear, though, is that students will view the whole thing with suspicion: those teachers trying to use our technology. For all that they might wear woolly hats pulled down to a millimetre of their eyelids, if we turned up in one they'd burst out laughing.

That was the fate of poor Miss Greystone, a kindly but ineffectual English graduate who taught me literature O-level. The boys of 5B were not very kind to her. To win us over, she decided to use cutting edge 1960s technology - a Dansette record player.

The cult hero then was Bob Dylan, crooning that the times they were a changin'. We listened. We looked at one another. We began to giggle. Then someone set off an alarm clock strategically placed in an empty desk, with the lid shut with chewing gum.

And me a teacher too. To be honest, I think I'm more ashamed of that episode than I am of the revelation at the top of the page.

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