My Device: Review
While strict "no cell phone" policies still litter higher education syllabi, Mobile Technologies and the Writing Classroom: Resources for Teachers explored ways of incorporating critical technology engagement in the writing classroom. The chapter authors described lessons about, for and with mobile technologies, filling a much-needed gap in how mobile technologies as assignment focus or assignment technology supports composing practices.
Jason Lang (2017), in his Chronicle of Higher Education series “The Distracted Classroom,” found that cellphone bans don’t address the distraction from learning, they simply mask the problem by hiding technologies. In his first column, also titled “The Distracted Classroom,” he described a student who mostly followed his cellphone ban policy, but remained distracted by the screen displaying texts and the phone indicator light. Lang described his immediate response was to consider enforcing a stricter ban policy—asking students to keep phones hidden to remove the distraction from the indicator light. However, the policy was not the issue so a stricter ban would not address student’s distracted thinking. Through the series, Lang shifted the conversation away from cellphone bans and toward engagement with mobile devices, raising important ideas that can be difficult to implement. While Lang offered discussion on the classroom use of polling tools in a later post, “The Distracted Classroom: Transparency, Autonomy, and Pedagogy,” educators may struggle to find meaningful ways to engage mobile devices in their classrooms. Which is where Mobile Technologies and the Writing Classroom: Resources for Teachers fills an important gap. It offered a wide variety of assignments, with discussion on adaptability, so instructors can implement the ideas easily.
In previous semesters, after I posted digital comments on essay drafts, students ask how to navigate the learning management system to access my comments. They would log in using their mobile devices (phones and tablets) then have me help them navigate. Students used their mobile devices to access the library pages to ask questions about research articles they find for assignments. In these cases, students' classroom learning needs were met immediately when they opened the information using the most accessible device—their mobile device. These instances of mobile device use were similar to Claire Lutkewitte’s (2016) experiences (described in the “Introduction”). I also assumed my students regularly compose using their mobile device beyond my classroom. This begs the question (one that I didn’t see raised by Lang in his discussion): how do students negotiate using their mobile device for class work when that same device is restricted within some classroom spaces?
The discussion I found missing in Mobile Technologies and the Writing Classroom: Resources for Teachers is the need for educators to engage with mobile composing to model and practice composing with mobile devices. As I tongue-in-cheek pointed out with my tweet above, instructors need to compose with their devices to support student practices.
While the chapters of the book focused on supporting instructors ready and willing to engage with mobile devices in their classroom, Lutkewitte’s underlying question pointed out the need for all instructors to consider mobile devices and students practices. If research was required in assignments, the likelihood that students will use a mobile device to access materials they’ll use for course assignments is high, even in courses where instructors chose not to use any technology. Instead of waiting for institutional situations to be ideal, Mobile Technologies and the Writing Classroom: Resources for Teachers offers assignments for faculty to implement and adapt to their classrooms and their situations.
In her book, Toward a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka (2011) explored composing, multimodal composing, and non-writing elements of the composition process. In her conclusion, she noted that “in addition to providing students with opportunities to produce (as well as to read, critically engage with, and respond to) a wide variety of texts, it is also important that we, as scholars and researchers, explore the potentials of different representational systems in our own work” (p. 135). Shipka encouraged faculty members to explore their own composing processes, to play with multimodal composing, to use markers and paper, not just to create examples for students but as ways of exploring their own scholarship. Shipka's call for instructor exploration adds much to Lutkewitte's collection, Instructors should consider how to adapt and implement these assignments in their classrooms and consider how to engage with mobile devices to support their own composing.
Lutkewitte’s edited collection drew on theories, developed lesson plans, and provided student examples. Chapter by chapter, the authors discussed assignments that facilitate ways for students to meaningfully engage with technology. However, I think Shipka’s call for instructor, scholar, and researcher engagement with mobile technologies beyond examples for course assignments is also fitting. Jessica Schreyer (Chapter 7) briefly discussed dialup internet and chat rooms, connecting her early internet explorations to her assignment to engage students with where they compose. Similarly, Ghanashyam Sharma and Soni Adhikari (Chapter 11) discussed early exposure to features like ‘print screen’ as influencing their assignment. Casey R. McArdle’s chapter (Chapter 8) began the lesson plan with an example of McArdle walking through the assignment with a personal mobile device. Josh Herron (Chapter 9) wrote the chapter on an iPad Mini. Of the fourteen chapters included, only these four explicitly discussed their experiences with technology and its influence on the assignments the authors discussed. Of the four, two traced their influential experiences back to early internet exploration, not recent use of their mobile devices. Then, in Chapter 14, Mike Tardiff and Minh-Tam Nguyen asked the reader to “tell a story of how you came to this book at this moment” using only the available apps on your phone (p. 207). I saw this connecting to Shipka’s work; how can we, as scholars and researchers, connect to our own mobile devices?
For me, the question left unanswered by this collection is: how do we—as instructors, scholars, and researchers—engage with mobile devices in our scholarship and research to better support student critical engagement with their devices? I couldn’t find a way to build the review on my mobile device, but I used apps to take notes and begin my composing process. How do I bring those experiences into the classroom? While this line of questioning has the potential to sway some away from mobile devices (I never use my mobile device, I’m so far behind I’ll never catch up to students, etc.), I think it’s a productive question to help educators consider how the assignments provided in each chapter could help them in their own scholarship and research, not just benefit students. As I stated in the tweet below, instructors need to practice mobile composing to support student composing practices.
Despite the lack of attention to instructor use of mobile technologies, this edited collection served as a much-needed reference for bringing mobile devices into the composition classroom in meaningful ways. One book cannot possibly cover it all. The authors provided ample information to help instructors implement assignments to support critical engagement with mobile devices. Additionally, the authors approached composition teaching from different theories, so there is something here for everyone.