I recently completed several graduate courses where I noticed (more than usual) the prevalence of laptops in the instructional space. Half of my peers had open screens for most of the class. I found myself wondering, what are they typing? What are they looking at? Facebook? Twitter???? The eyes down, clickety-clack of the keyboard MUST have an effect on instructors and trainers. As a classroom teacher I often tell my students to “listen with their eyes” and when using laptops, to “lower their screens” during direct instruction (inevitably the machines, log out, go to sleep, and have to be reloaded).
Over the past two decades in the digital age, web 2.0 age, and now the mobile age we’ve seen ourselves accepting certain classroom-space barriers as acceptable. The affordances of technology, that is the quality of an technology to allow us to perform certain instructional actions, has shifted dramatically. The desktop computer as a source of learning in one location at a certain time SHIFTED to laptop computing where the learning was becoming mobile, and asynchronous. Yet in an instructional classroom setting, these two technologies create and maintain a social barrier, separating the learner and the learning from the subject matter expert by a physical screen.
Every instructor must doubt the level of engagement their learners have when they are looking at a computer screen. We have now found ourselves seeking to break down educational paradigms associated industrial revolution thought yet we do so by building barriers between learner and subject matter expert claiming these screens will give the learner control of learning. Then what are the subject matter experts there for? Is there no value in eye contact? For thousands of years the natural, accepted method of learning was apprenticeship where the learner sought out the subject matter experts and learned through social contact. Interpersonal skills mattered.
Mobile technology via smartphones and tablets now take the physical screen barrier and allow it to be set down with now worry about going to sleep, shutting off, and taking for ever to load back up when needed. These devices can open up the learner to the learning, the master-apprenticeship model can once again engage learners, with technology. Always on, anytime, anywhere technology has reinvigorated our desires to change the educational paradigm and will promote a new age of learning where the learner once again embraces technology as a tool to help them learn.