Posts in Category: Mobiles

The mobile only classroom (OK, plus a sketchbook)

We’re having a warm discussion in my classes about mobiles: What is it that makes people say “put them away, they’re a distraction” or at least that they are less than laptops as learning tools before they have played with them enough to know if that claim is true or not; if mobiles are disruptive, what is it exactly they are disrupting? Or is the current mode of teaching and learning actually disrupting a future mode that includes mobiles?

So we’ve decided to go mobile only for a few classes to see what we discover about ourselves and out tools. Well, mobile plus sketchbook actually, in keeping with the idea that the best way to take in information is with paper and pencil:

We noted by our habit of defaulting to a laptop for everything and we’re thinking maybe we should consider building deeper tool chest. So, as Dorothy Sayers points out in her wonderful speech, The Lost Tools of Learning, we are going to doodle around with our mobiles to “give ourselves the feel of the tool.” 

We’ll update here as the experiment progresses.

Mobile-only Trial – Day 4

Mobile-Only Week – Day 3


The only thing I couldn’t do was print. I rarely print anything so this was kind of funny to me.

I’m finding that gesture-based apps like Mailbox and Swipes are better than laptop tools for processing email and tasks. 

We’re running a Slack trial and this is turning out to be a boon for mobile work. 

Mobile-Only Week – Day 2


Composed in the WordPress app on my iPhone 6

My Day 2 was a typical admin day, one bookended by meetings and two sessions with IT to help Grade 10s ready their laptops for upcoming provincial exams. I used the time in between to set up the back end for  the new Centre for Innovation and process a ton of email. 

Mobile Only Week – Day 1


Composed on my iPhone.

I’ve decided to try going a week at work using only my phone, an iPhone 6. I maintain that all we need to run a good school is a smartphone and a notebook, that a laptop is legacy of industrial model learning and that mobiles are transformative. 

The signs all point that way at least, and now I want to know where the actual pain points are so I can build a strategy for making the transition to a mobile-first school. I have no doubt that we need a device such as a laptop or desktop for some work, but I’m pretty sure the day-to-day can be done with a mobile phone. 

Like a mad scientist I’m running this experiment on myself first. Mostly, I’m just observing and taking notes. Depending how things go, I’ll bring my students in the next week or so. 

Day One

A typical day with a mix of teaching and meetings.


  • My morning routine of checking calendars, email and social media is unchanged as I do this on my phone anyway. 
  • I was able to take attendance without trouble as our record keeping platform is web-based, though it’s not optimized for mobiles. 
  • I used Google Drive, Evernote and my notebook during our weekly school leadership team meeting. No issues. 


  • Google Classroom won’t let me create assignments on a mobile. There is no work around. This is more an inconvenience as we only use Classroom to handle document naming and filing. 
  • The mobile itself is not as big a limitation as only having one device. I usually work with two or three in my classroom. 

I’m here Mr. O-C! – Student attends class via Twitter

I take attendance by having my Theory of Knowledge students draw a picture of themselves at the start of class. They have three minutes to do this and if after that time I have no picture it means they were late or absent. (Hat tip to Linda Barry – this has turned out to be a terrific threshold activity.)

One of my students, Danielle, had to be away at a hockey game so she sent this via Twitter–and made the deadline:

I'm here!!

I call that being present.

Full marks.

What Developing States Might Teach Modern Edu About Mobiles

on mobiles, in MISC mag

Inspirations reading Collings, Patrick. “Africa: Innovating the Mobile Consumer Experience” MISC Magazine. Fall 2014: 65. Print.

On the African continent, “Education is the second largest application of mobile connectivity behind messaging.” So, the question I have is whether that means the phenomenon of mobile delivery of education is simply better than nothing–and so give their druthers, Africa states would adopt our brick-and-mortar model–or if their might be something we in the developed West can learn about thinking differently about what it means to be going to school.

Several things make me wonder:

This 1964 CBC Massey Lecture series, The Real World of Democracyby C. B. Macpherson. Delivered at the height of the Cold War, Macpherson’s lecture explored the rival ideas of democracy–communist, Third World and Wester-liberal–and suggested that the West has nothing to worry about if it is willing to change its values. I read the transcript back (way back, but not that far back) in university and need to reread it now because the details of his argument have faded. Nevertheless, the Real World of Democracy was a bucket of cold water in my face. The seminal read made me look for the first time at the contextual complexities of the real world and the possibility that my world view and my values might not be as neutral as I believed. That idea transfers to ideas about education, too.

This is reinforced by this morning’s reading of Carol Black’s Occupy your Brain: On Power Knowledge and Re-Occupation of Common Sensea critique of introduction of centralized control of education in traditional cultures and, by extension, of our own modern culture. It’s not easy to stand against the idea of a global standard (or any standards in education)–there are some things that every human ought to know, aren’t there? But Black isn’t taking issue with what people should know but about who controls that knowledge and the delivery of it:

Once learning is institutionalized under a central authority, both freedom for the individual and respect for the local are radically curtailed.  The child in a classroom generally finds herself in a situation where she may not move, speak, laugh, sing, eat, drink, read, think her own thoughts, or even  use the toilet without explicit permission from an authority figure.  Family and community are sidelined, their knowledge now seen as inferior to the school curriculum.  The teacher has control over the child,  the school district has control over the teacher, the state has control over the district, and increasingly, systems of national standards and funding create national control over states. In what should be considered a chilling development, there are murmurings of the idea of creating global standards for education – in other words, the creation of a single centralized authority dictating what every child on the planet must learn.

We’d be wrong to take say Black fails to appreciate the social contract that is public education. To see the danger, Black asks us to look at the difference between public-supported education and centrally-controlled education

The crucial confusion here is between the idea of publicly supported education and the idea of centrally controlled state-administered education.  To really get your hands around this distinction simply replace the word “school” with the word “radio” in the following sentences and see what you get:

I am in favor of publicly supported radio.

I am in favor of centrally-controlled state-administered radio.

Not the same thing, are they?

This brings to mind an old post, Public Education is Like the Roman Empirein which I say schools ought to run more like cities and less like empires. “Cities work because they create conditions, rather than outputs, and because civic governments largely stay out of the way of the people they govern.”

Macpherson’s and Black’s message takes a sharper edge in this video, Why is my curriculum white?

And the same message gets a laugh from my friend, the very witty Yong Zhao, who calls standards-based education, sausage-making:

Zhao keynote

Education & the Second Screen: Give Your Students’ Mobiles Some Love

Inspirations reading Cohen, Jonathan. “Branding in the Age of Smart TV and the Second Screen” MISC Magazine. Fall 2014: 32-33. Print.

Download (PDF, 1.36MB)

The potential of the second screen in education is largely unexplored. Students have them–smart phones and laptops–but phones are ignored as learning tools and laptops are used simply as personal productivity tools or mirrors of what the teacher is presenting on the first screen (e.g. the white board or projector.)

social complex

There’s an echo here of the a16z Tech Summit I attended in the fall of 2013: digital is bridging itself (in business) and I wondered then how it might augment the in-class experience. I wonder, what in education are the equivalents of rapid market testing, post-purchase loyalty and driving to local shopping (as opposed to buying online.): rapid lesson testing? a desire to dive deeper in classes? connecting the learning across subject domains for a richer experience…?

My students and I have been using Twitter as a go-to tool in classes and though it’s been quite successful it’s still an artifact of the first screen experience. but I think there may be something even richer here…going give the “second screen experience creation” some serious though over the winter break.

Thinking Out Loud – Forget 1:1, Build a 0:1 Laptop Program

Disclaimer: I’m saying all this in full recognition of the financial and practical problems with implementing mobile programs.

If I had a do-over at my school, or any school, I would skip laptops altogether and build a mobile program. That would put my school in a much better position

At one point, I was arguing we should build an ∞ : 1 program. This was my way of saying 1:1 thinking is limited thinking because, wherever we happen to start the journey, we are all moving toward a single user working with multiple devices (a result of the consumerization of technology) and we had to begin building–now–ways of exploiting that in schools. 1:1 is not an end game.

I still say 1:1 is limited and limiting thinking but I’m reversing directions and saying I think we can dispense with laptops altogether. A laptop is a peak technology, a highly refined articulation of a mode of thinking and knowledge structure that is being disrupted by newer technologies, principally the web and mobiles. (See David Weinberger’s, Too Big To Know, for a discussion on the changing structure of knowledge.) They make sense if we want to continue doing things as we have, which is not all bad, but I suspect they might actually inhibit innovation in the classroom. Laptops have been around for a while now. While technically brilliant, their form is not appreciably different from a typewriter and, by and large, I don’t think they’ve transformed or moved our teaching and learning beyond typewriter thinking. (The usual criticism I get is that you can’t write an essay on a smart phone.) Oh sure, they’ve made things more efficient, which is good. But notwithstanding some innovative work by some brilliant teachers here and there, I’ve not seen any systemic transformative change come about by the implementation of a 1:1 laptop program.

Mobiles, and smart phones in particular, are products of the emerging knowledge structure.

Connecting ideas I need to think and say more about:

knowledge structures
the evolution of the laptop; I think I can argue is it based on the form of very early books
typewriter thinking
per Twitter chat with @jonpratt, need to look at whether a laptop program is a necessary step, a catalyst for tech thinking, so to speak, or merely a circumstance of history; could a school go directly to mobiles?
Things I want to try:

A laptop v. mobile smackdown

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