The Laptop At School Is The Swiss Army Knife Of The 21st Century

High School Girl by Dick Thomas Johnson (CC BY 2.0)

Rather than tell the students that it is an instrument that must absolutely be avoided, we must teach them that it is a black box that they must understand to make the best use of its potential.

The potential of new technologies for learning and education is largely unassessed. There is a lack of specific research on the subject, including research into what is happening on the ground and for each learner at all ages. There are few evaluations outside of personal feelings.

One of the central questions is: have we learned to learn? And have we learned to learn critically in the digital age? Because we can also be manipulated by the digital. Any means of communication is also a means of manipulation, as we have seen from Goebbels to Trump or Daesch. The more effective communication tools you have, the more you have to develop the critical mind and the ability to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which is anything but obvious even for an adult and especially for a child or teenager.

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On the other hand, what digital means, compared to radio, for example, is that we can all produce and share and that we can easily document what we do. We can trade more widely and at all scales. So we have this opportunity, not only to learn to read, write but to accommodate a production made by others and to produce oneself, via writing or a whole lot of other devices that digital allows.

Not only must we learn to decrypt the messages we receive but we must also learn to share our ideas, which means learning to put them in order, to have a critical capacity on oneself as well as accept the criticism of the other. A criticism that of course must be benevolent and constructive.

Learning is being able to give and receive criticism. Digital can do this at unprecedented scales. Young people today need to understand the power of this digital tool. It is the role of the school to ensure that each student comes out with a sufficient digital culture, has a critical mind, develops an ethic of using tools, and acquires skills for appropriate tools.

One of the great difficulties is that today teachers are very little accompanied. Initial training is perfectible as any device and training continue more because it is far from the challenges and in particular the challenges of transformation.

We, therefore, need a real professional development and back up this professional development with the results of the research. And this can be done by relying in particular on the research laboratories, if they make the effort to make accessible their knowledge and results to all audiences, starting with the teachers. Each teacher must be allowed to appropriate the best practices and adapt them to the specific context of their own. It only takes a fraction of teachers to do it, to document what they are doing to allow others to use it.

For example the use of laptops at school. You must not go from one extreme to the other: accept everything or forbid everything. At least what I think is important to develop is the ability to use the tool wisely.

It is thus possible to install in cell phones a system that allows access to sensor data: therefore, if you are a teacher of physics you can study the moment of clocks and record directly on your phone oscillations of the pendulum. If you want to study free fall, you can study the acceleration experienced by a tool of this kind.

You can use Geography to geolocate a part of the space or in the course of sport use the GPS so that the students can see the course they will be doing. All the digital traces that these devices can record, we can divert them to use them for educational purposes.

Rather than tell the students that it is an instrument that must absolutely be avoided, we must teach them that it is a black box that they must understand to make the best use of its potential. The notebook is the Swiss Army knife of the 21st century. We must learn to use it. We will be all the more listened to by the students, that we will have shown the potentialities.

Learning to learn is the keyword. It’s the best way to adapt to the world. It is true of the individuals, it is true of the collectives.

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