Mobile Devices and Education: Consumption v. Production

Images of different mobile technologies--iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook.

Designing the Obvious (2010) author, Robert Hoekman adamantly encourages developers to design with mobile applications in mind. While mobile devices, such a the iPad and iPhone can be limiting to expert users who need more intensive tools, these devices do all the tasks that most people need from their technology:

And while many people in the tech industry still see some of these gadgets as luxury items—often even wondering what on Earth they would do with a tablet—these devices are designed for the other 99 percent. They’re designed for that large segment of the population that uses computers for paying bills, social networking, making plans, watching videos, checking the news, listening to music, digging up recipes, learning new skills, creating spreadsheets for work, writing memos, and of course, checking email. These people use computers primarily for media consumption, web browsing, and basic document-creation. And that’s exactly what the iPad and other tablets are designed to do best. (Kindle Location 156-1490).

The last part of that quote made me pause: “These people use computers primarily for media consumption.” What is the relationship between media/information consumption and production within the context of the college classroom–more specifically, a classroom within the Humanities?

Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of thought about how mobile devices can be used within higher ed.  Several years ago, Duke University gave iPods to their first-year students. And many other universities have experimented with similar ventures. Georgia State, for example began a technology initiative in 2010 that gave Flip Cams and iPads to Freshman Learning Communities.  And regardless of your opinion on Apple’s recent release of the iBook Textbook, iBooks Author, and the updated iTunes U, this even has certainly heightened the buzz and has kept the conversations going.

With respect to all these instructional technology initiatives, there seems to be a very distinct line between consumption and production. Friends of mine who have used iPads in their composition classes said their biggest struggle was figuring out what to do with them other than having students read the course texts from them.

I myself have resisted requesting iPads for my Comp Classes for this very reason. I don’t know the best way to teach with them. If they don’t significantly enhance student engagement and learning outcomes, then how can I justify using them?

Yes, I can ask all of my students to purchase an eText, rather than a hardcopy of a textbook.  I can assign open-source texts for students to read online. Students could more easily access the PDFs I post on our course management system. They can pull up the course website in class to look at the schedule or assignment sheets (since I don’t print any of that out). As a class we can look at and read websites or online articles. (Currently, if I want to work with these texts during class, I have to either print copies or ask students print and bring them to class–which I find ridiculous, because they are meant to be read from a screen.)

But all of the things I just mentioned are forms of media consumption. And while learning how to look at and analyze a text is a very important part of first year composition–it’s only half of what we do!  We consume such a wide variety of texts so we can then (hopefully) produce better texts.  And the missing production component is what I’m still struggling with.

Education and learning, in large part, is a practice in consumption. We read, we watch, we listen, we try to understand… but we can’t really engage with and internalize the information until we do something with it. Isn’t that why (presumably) students take tests, give presentations, write papers, and create projects?

Where does the production part fit into the mobile learning model? Yes, students can captures, create, and upload videos or audio easily. They can give presentations from an iPad displayed from a project. They can write emails, take notes, and perhaps make posts on a message board. But we require a level of production more serious than just that–at least in the Humanities.

Maybe it’s a matter of the instructor simply not know what’s available (I’ll readily admit to that). Maybe it’s an issue of the learning curve on the part of the student (though mobile device are much simpler to use than a laptop).  Maybe it boils down to time constraints. Instructors can’t use up precious class time trying to explain devices when learning objectives and course content aren’t being addressed. And in the cases of most instructors–they simply don’t have a lot of time to do extensive exploring or to completely rework their class around a technology that even they haven’t quite figured out how to use really, really well.

Image source: Mobile Technology = Mobile Learning


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