Hea: Cautions Against Uncritically Embracing Ubiquity and Mobility

Chapter 10 of Kimme Hea’s Perpetual Contact is a piece that resonated most with me this week. Hea’s cautions are comforting to me. She introduces some very enthusiastic, albeit myopic (perhaps even blind?) and uncritical, approaches to a ubiquitous computing learning environment: Vail School District Empire High’s 1:1 laptop initiative and MIT’s OLPC project. I can relate to Hea’s cautions because this uncritical enthusiasm is something I experience from time to time, the suggestion of using technology for technology’s sake. As if the mere introduction to a technology will immediately solve income gaps, achievement and literacy gaps, and increase learning and engagement.  What accompanies this, in my experience, is the tendency to classify teachers (and other stakeholders, too) as being either luddites who refuse to see tech as having a role in education or die-hard cheerleaders of tech integration at every angle, subject, and moment of teaching and learning. Two ideas concerned me the most while reading Hea’s piece:

1. Replacing of Textbooks with 1:1 Laptops

Vail Superintendent’s announcement that Empire High would eliminate textbooks in favor of personal laptops seems premature in assuming the transition would be smooth and welcomed by both teachers and students. Hea does not elaborate on the reception of this change, except to say that teachers were skeptical of it, and that it ended up being a large success. In implementing technology in one class on a daily basis, I’ve come to understand that while I may have been ready (or at least THOUGHT I was ready), not all of my students felt the same way. More forethought and planning is necessary for this type of change in literacy practices.

2. The On-Demand Teacher

IBM touted their new computers as transforming learning into “continuous learning” and the 24/7 student (which sounds exhausting!), and Hea furthers this idea and highlights the on-demand teacher available to help students when needed. I know exactly what this feels like. Over the past four years (with our students having district email accounts and ever-increasing access to those accounts in and out of school), I have received some pretty interesting emails and requests from students. One student a few years ago continued to email me once or twice a week asking me to repeat the homework. I responded to the ones that I could, but even despite me ignoring the others, she continued on until I approached her with the discussion of what are “email Mrs. Campbell worthy” situations and questions. This year I have had students in my iPad class email me questions such as, “Did I leave my water bottle in class?” and “I forgot to charge my iPad, could you please plug it in for me?” Despite these requests, I have had more students engage me in the assignments and asking for help/clarification beyond asking me what the homework is. Most of the questions I receive now are about how to do something on the iPad if a particular app is not working. What’s been nice is that students have shared the role as troubleshooter with me, taking screenshots of error messages and emailing me how they got to the error message and what they did to troubleshoot on their own. I teeter between wanting to help and answer student questions while I am at home, or even in class myself, and challenging them to consider other places to seek the answers they are looking for. It’s in my nature to want to help, but I am always conscious of how that is impacting my life at home.

I was very interested in Hea’s introduction of non-place theory and spatial theory. These are both I never really considered in relation to integrating a 1:1 model, but it has come very close, if not completely, articulating the challenge that I have faced and haven’t’ quite been able to put my finger on.  If students have access to what I want them to learn outside of my classroom, what’s the point of them coming every day? (Some days we have work days, some we have brief moments of instruction, and then guided and independent practice, and collaborative work time. I know I’m not becoming obsolete, but sometimes it becomes hard to situate myself into this new environment that requires a new or updated pedagogy.


3 thoughts on “Hea: Cautions Against Uncritically Embracing Ubiquity and Mobility

  1. Great points here, especially the thought of why students should bother coming to school if they have all of this access already. These are definitely concerns we have to deal with, but I also agree that we are not becoming obsolete. This makes me think back to my simple decision in choosing to take foreign language courses over computer science courses in undergrad. As an English major, I was required to have taken enough classes in some foreign language to earn a “proficiency” in said language, so I knew the foreign language path was, without a question, the way to go to achieve my degree choice; however, my brother doesn’t have any sort of language or computer science requirement that lines up with his accounting degree, so I remember him debating between what to take and the merits of each. After all the reading we’ve been doing lately and this class in general, I almost want to petition for schools to require both a foreign language track and a computer science track. There are too many merits to both to have to make us choose! At the same time, I also say this as a humanist – I’m not sure of the merits of a foreign language proficiency for an engineer. So if I went back to undergrad, would I have additionally taken a computer science class? Most likely not since I tend to teach myself tech-based things before the idea of having a class on it crosses my mind. But you do bring up a great point: simply introducing these technologies to students won’t fix all of the logistical problems surrounding the technology use. I’m lucky to come from a middle class working family, but I know I can’t say the same for other students.

    • “Technology for Technology’s sake” is a big thing to make teachers aware of. In teaching a class on instructional technology, I make sure to tell them repeatedly that technology is not a solution in itself. It may help with issues of motivation and attention, but won’t necessarily solve those issues. There has to be some purpose or objective to bringing in the technology. If a teacher can do an assignment just as well and successfully without technology, it is really worth asking “why” if he/she decides to bring it in. So, I liked that you also reiterated this point at the beginning and end of your blog post because it is worth making teachers aware of.

  2. Bree,

    I really sympathized with your second point about “The On-Demand Teacher.” I struggle with setting technology boundaries in my class. Yes, I want students to feel free to email me and seek me out with questions, but how do we determine which questions are appropriate for email and which ones should be common sense? I already worry sometimes that I’m too easy on my students, and I do think it’s important that students learn how to navigate their professional and personal lives and understand the boundaries between them.

    I really enjoyed your thoughts.


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