The Challenge

Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat notes that cheap and ubiquitous technological resources have reshaped our geopolitical and economic realities, by providing individuals with almost instant access to the collective knowledge of humankind. It is this quick and easy access to information that has caused many corporations and governmental bodies to re-think how they interact with and support their stakeholders, causing them to flatten their hierarchies and distribute information and control more evenly. In contrast, traditional educational organizations have yet to fully embrace the flattening of their organizational structures and distribute teaching learning so that the learning process can take place anywhere and at any time.

Despite the technological advances that have taken place in the 21st century, most classroom practices are still rooted in the 20th century (Christensen et al, 2008). As a result, students report that “Whenever I go into class, I have to power down (Puttnam, 2007).” To capitalize on the technological capabilities of the digital generation, educators need to become more skilled at incorporating the technological resources that have become an integral part of the lives of today’s students into the classroom.

Unfortunately, teacher training and professional development have been slow to incorporate the latest technological resources into their training programs. While there may be many factors that have contributed to this dire situation, the greatest obstacle is a lack of access to latest technological resources that can be used to support teaching and learning. Consequently, current and even future generations of teachers continue to be trained in a manner that simply replicates traditional classroom practice. Increasing access to 21st century teaching tools, will not only better prepare current and new teachers to thrive in technologically enriched classrooms, it may also provide them with greater insight into future possibilities and thus limit resistance when these possibilities become reality.

The Possibilities

To support anywhere, anytime learning, it is essential that the learning resources required to support 21st century teaching and learning are highly portable and mobile. This will allow students to engage in the learning process both inside and outside of the classroom.

While not currently available, a student friendly smartphone should serve as the central learning resource in the 21st century classroom. These devices would include a scientific/graphing calculator, digital/video camera, audio recorder, as well as pre-installed learning resources such as applications that can be used to access their schools’ learning management or online learning resources (i.e. Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT), e-book reader, classroom response system (clickers), dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, etc. Supplying students with unlocked phones that are wi-fi accessible, would allow students to tap into the resources of cloud computing while they are at school and have access to wi-fi, but would also allow them the option of adding a pay-as-you-go phone and data plan should they desire.

The results of the 2010 Speak Up survey, which polled 294,399 students and 42,267 parents about student access to various electronic devices, found that “67 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it, and 61 percent said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks (Project Tomorrow, 2011).”

The survey also noted that both student and parents believe that mobile devices can be used to extend learning beyond the classroom and school day (Project Tomorrow, 2011). This is a clear indication that education consumers are ready for the change that education providers have been slow to deliver.

Dr. Camille Rutherford is an Assistant Professor of Education at Brock University. She was formerly a Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and Project Director for the Distributed Leadership Study. As a former educator and university administrator, her research interests include school leadership, technology & student engagement and the use of social media to facilitate distributed leadership.


Christensen, C.; Johnson C.W.; Horn, M.B. (2008). Disrupting class. How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Friedman, T.L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farr, Straus and Giroux.

Project Tomorrow (2011). The new 3 E’s of education: Enabled, engaged, empowered – How today’s students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning. Irvine: CA. Retrieved from

Puttnam, D. (2007, May 8). In class, I have to power down. The Guardian. Retrieved from