Back in 2003, Stephen Bax described ‘normalisation’ as ‘the stage when technology becomes invisible’ and sets this as an aim for truly integrated CALL (Bax, S. 2003). Digital technology has come a long way since 2003 and most learners now carry tiny computers in their pockets that are vastly superior to what was available back then.
So, has technology become invisible in our classrooms?
My students were initially surprised when I started using a BYOD approach, but I believe mobile phone use in class can reach a certain level of ‘normalisation’ with time. However, this is helped by my current context where class sizes are fairly small and students expect something different from their normal lessons in state schools. Having also worked in a number of primary and secondary state schools in China and Italy, it would seem that the ‘normalisation’ of digital technologies in mainstream education is a long way off. That said, most students nowadays do have smart phones hidden under their desks, so perhaps it is mainly an issue of teacher/student attitudes and training. Another reason could be that many teachers feel threatened by the information students have at their fingertips. Either that or they associate mobile phone use with distraction and disrespect, which does need to be addressed. That said, by banning mobile phone use completely, teachers are denying their students and themselves a wealth of opportunities.
Bridging the gap
Charles Leadbetter sees cheap ubiquitous mobile devices as the solution to the ‘digital divide’ (TED.com, 2010). In his talk on TED.com Charles looks to what is happening in the poorest communities in Brazil and Africa for inspiration. He states that in these situations, learning needs to be connected to the realities of life i.e. finding a job and surviving. Mobile devices allow learners to access the collective knowledge of the Internet and take learning beyond the confines of the classroom, perhaps even to companies. I think there is a lot of potential to overcome social-economic divides through the ‘normalisation’ of smartphone use in education. I also believe that educational institutions in the developed world have a lot to learn from other less privileged contexts. Towards the end of the video Charles states that ‘we are on the verge of the schoolification of the world’. However, this talk was made five years ago and we still feel a long way off from this dream. If the technology is already here and ‘normalised’ in our everyday lives, what is stopping the digital divide from being bridged?
Stephen Bax, CALL-past, present and future, (Elsevier Science Ltd, 2003)
Charles Leadbetter, Education innovation in the slums, (TED.com 2010)