Resiliency and self-regulation are two learning skills that have recently taken the spotlight in education circles. Questions have arisen as to whether schools provide too much of a safety net for kids and whether this extended safety net is actually proving detrimental to the personal and academic growth of kids.

I just recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”. The major premise of his book is that there is an inverted U-shaped curve when it comes to the benefits of interventions or advantages. Certain traits or interventions bring benefits but there is a limit to those benefits. When there is too much of a certain trait or intervention, those interventions can actually begin to undo the benefits that they are intended to bring. One education-related example Gladwell uses concerns class sizes. Smaller class sizes are advantageous to student learning when class sizes are reduced from 40 to 25. This intervention allows the teacher to spend more time with each individual student to support individual student learning needs. However, if classes are too small, the intervention of reducing class sizes actually makes the learning environment worse off as there isn’t enough diversity of thought or diversity of student connections and relationships.

Is that what is happening with resilience and self-regulation? Have we as a system provided our kids with too much intervention to the point where they are too dependant on the safety nets put in place for them? Take a look at this experiment taking place at one school in New Zealand. The school is experimenting with removing some of the standard rules used during recess time – the intent is to add more risk to student play. According to this news article, kids are becoming more creative and inventive in their play. The news article also states that students are more focused when returning back into the classroom after recess. The premise presented is that by reintroducing the element of risk during recess play, kids learn to be more self-reliant while at the same time, allowing them free reign on their creativity of play.

Another plea to add more academic risk in learning can be found in this interview with inventor James Dyson . The interview focuses on the need for schools to let kids fail. Valuable lessons are learned when kids make mistakes and by not allowing kids to make those mistakes, we do not allow them to learn this important skill of how to learn from failure.

When in conversation about the state of the school system, I often hear people share their opinions on what school was like “in the olden days”, how “we turned out alright” and how “the pendulum has swung too far the other way and we need to find a middle ground between how things were and how things are”. Maybe that is what this focus on resiliency and self-regulation is all about. The difficulty, in my view, is that so much has been invested in providing a wide reaching safety net for kids that it may be difficult to restrain the scope of that safety net. The other difficulty has to do with societal norms and beliefs. The prevailing opinion is that it is the responsibility of schools to improve student achievement. While I am in agreement, in maintaining that view, we often forget about the role the child has to play in taking responsibility in improving their own achievement.

The old adage of ‘you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ applies here. School systems must continue to do whatever possible to support student achievement but part of that support is to give kids the appropriate level of responsibility to improve their own achievement. In the case of the school in New Zealand, supporting student achievement means removing some of the interventions to allow kids to experiment by adding some risk to their play. In the case of the argument made by James Dyson, supporting student achievement means shrinking the academic safety net and allow kids to fail so that we also allow them to develop the important skill of learning from their mistakes.

If Malcolm Gladwell is correct and too many interventions can actually reduce the effectiveness of the intervention, then adding an intervention to support resiliency and self-regulation may make kids less resilient and less able to self-regulate. Again, if Malcolm Gladwell is correct, then perhaps shrinking the academic safety net and allow for more academic risk will help to push students to achieve new academic highs.

It will be interesting to watch this issue develop.

Here is a copy of the slidedeck used during the #ossemooc online presentation on Tuesday February 25th, 2014. A recording of the presentation can be found here.

Here are some recent articles and posts I have read on digital realities of society and the classroom. While these articles may or may not deal specifically with mobile learning, they do deal with social conditions in today’s world and today’s classroom.

1) Canadian Children Can Play Computer Games Before They Can Write Their Names: Study – this article from the Vancouver Sun looks at screen time for pre-school children

2) Should We Let Our Student Multitask? – this post argues that in our day and age, more than ever, we need to be working to sharpen children’s ability to focus. Multitasking is seen as a distraction.

3) Parents unaware of dangers faced by children on smartphones – A news article of British families discusses how many children access inappropriate information on the internet due to insufficient monitoring from parents.

4) Use of iPads in Charleston County schools show mixed, mostly positive results – Key quote in this article:

“You have to give something more than a year before you say it does or doesn’t work…”

5) 10 Mind-Blowing Mobile Learning Statistics Infographic – While I’m not a fan of hyperbole, such as the term “mind-blowing”, this inforgraphic does have some good information on people’s opinions and perceptions regarding the learning potential of mobile devices.

In this very engaging talk, young Adora Svitak reminds us all, including educators, that we need to listen to students, provide them with a voice, and remember that learning is reciprocal. The most poignant part of the talk are the statements around adults adding layers of control to what we fear. While not speaking specifically to mobile learning, one can see the arguments around mobile learning and BYOD over the years following the same process of fear and control, and adults not listening to kids, that Ms. Svitak speaks about.

Video  —  Posted: January 25, 2014 in edushifts, reflections, video
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Apps are the foundation of all mobile platforms.  The explosion in the use of mobile devices, especially smart phones, is the direct result of two factors.  The first factor is the design and manufacture of hand held devices that are small, yet powerful enough to act as mini computers.  The second is the design and development of applications that run on these devices that allow users to access information and accomplish tasks on the go.  With regards to learning, the discussion around the use of mobile devices has often been around app use and the use of mobile devices as a device of consumption.  There are endless learning apps available in app stores that focus on information access or reinforcement of skill through consumption.  While using apps specifically, and mobile devices in general, in this way has a place, when we focus the use of mobile devices to develop skills, we need to use mobile devices differently.

The discussion in education circles regarding inquiry based learning and knowledge construction applies when discussing mobile learning.  It is only by using mobile devices to collaboratively interact with others, construct knowledge and publish learning that mobile use begins to move to a new and higher level. Using apps on mobile devices to reinforce learning at the end of the learning cycle is not a transformative use of the technology. Transformative use includes using apps to learn and develop new skills at the beginning and throughout the learning process.

It is difficult to provide examples using specific apps due to the various platforms available. However, if we use social networking sites and apps as an example, one can see how mobile devices can be used by students to discuss questions, formulate solutions to inquiries, and to collaborate. It could be discussions using Twitter, collaborating on presentations using Google docs and sharing presenting findings on a blog or wiki. The crucial part is the apps, like devices themselves, are tools to learning thus play a subservient role. We need to focus on expectations and learning skills first and then find apps that support the learning. We should not be getting apps because “it’s a great way to reinforce math skills” but because it “help students develop math skills”. Apps, like devices, need to provide students with the ability to engage in learning in ways that are impossible without them. Apps that replicate flash cards do not support higher level learning. Apps that allow students to communicate, collaborate, share ideas and construct knowledge with others across distances and time do support higher level learning.

What are your thoughts here? What specific examples do you have of apps that support higher level learning?

Having one device per child in a learning environment is a luxury dreamed about for decades. With the growing ubiquity of handheld devices in the hands of school aged children and the prevalence of BYOD policies, 1:1 is now attainable. Now that 1:1 is really possible, the question arises, “Is 1:1 really necessary?”

In my current school, we are making slow but steady investments in mobile technology through the purchases of iPad minis. As with any expensive technology purchase, we are purchasing small quantities at a time and trying to maximize their use. The approach some teachers have taken is experimenting with engaging students with the devices is through a learning centre approach. Within their learning centres, one centre makes the iPad minis available for research, discovery or reinforcement of curricular concepts. This didn’t result from an application of a grand theoretical plan but out of necessary. When we only have 4 iPad minis to use, this seemed like the best way to start.

After observing this learning centre approach in action, I am seeing 1:1 in a new light. True, those students engaged in the centre with the iPads are in a 1:1 setting, but that is only one of several learning stations with each station focusing on a different skill. The approach seems to work so well that I have started questioning in my own mind whether it is really necessary for all students in a given class to have mobile technology in their hands at the same time.

To add a bit is context: the above observations are mainly from Kindergarten and early primary classrooms. However, I’ve also seen the technology being used successfully in this format in a junior level grade.

Here are some of the benefits that I have noticed thus far:

Less Distraction:: students are focused on the planned activity as the tool is being used in a really focused way;

Focus on Skill Development: the centre uses the iPad to develop a particular Skill;

Increase in Application: the various centres focus on different skills and the centre with the iPad is often used to reinforce and/or apply learning in the other centres;

Learning Centres Bring Increased Student Engagement: while this benefit mainly comes from using a learning centre approach, utilizing technology further reinforces the appeal to learning for students;

Fostering Inquiry: with an increased focus on the implementation of inquiry-based learning, learning centres naturally support inquiry and the use of mobile technology in one centre provide diversity in opportunity and access.

As a support tool, mobile devices seem to be a natural fit when the teacher uses a learning centre format to engage students in inquiry. Of all the benefits listed above, the one that really surprised me was the lack of distraction. This has always been one of the criticisms of incorporating any form of technology – the technology distracts students from the learning goal as they use the technology for activities not related to the learning. I can see this happening in a whole class 1:1 situation. However, when utilizing a smaller number, in our case 4 iPad minis, in a learning centre where students are rotating between centres, students tended to be more focused and teachers, who now naturally fall into the role of facilitator, are able to observe student activities more directly and provide that timely descriptive feedback that everyone is talking about these days.

To conclude, more observation and reflection is needed before any sort of definitive statement can be made about 1:1. For me, time and slow immersion of this learning format into more grade levels would allow a broader look at the strategy of using mobile devices in a learning centre format. In the meantime, necessity had created an environment that has challenged my thinking about 1:1 and the best way to utilize mobile devices to support learning in classrooms.

I’ve been quiet on the blog for a while. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. Educational and societal changes happen so rapidly these days that there is always something to reflect on. However, in a strange way, this is the same reason for my silence – with such a rapid pace to change in western society, it’s so easy to get caught in superficial discussion and surface level analysis. I haven’t written for a while because I am considering what mLearning looks like as we head into 2014.

Back in 2007, when I began this blog, the posts often focused on ways educators and students could utilize mobile devices for learning in an attempt to make it’s use ubiquitous. Now, a mere six years later, use of mobile devices is becoming ubiquitous and soon their use will be common place. Considering this new reality, I’ve been asking myself the following question: “What does mLearning look like when use if mobile devices is ubiquitous?”

It has come to the point now where neither the device nor the platform matters. All one needs is a mobile tool and access becomes instant. In this environment of multimodal devices and BYOD, what are next steps for mLearning?

The more I think about this, the clearer the answer becomes. Now more than ever, mLearning is about skill development. It’s not that skills didn’t matter six years ago, it’s that six years ago, I looked more at the viability of using mobile devices. The tool itself is now moving to the background and some would argue that is where a tool belongs – in the background supporting skill development.

So what skills can be supported by mLearning? Platforms, apps and tools exist on all mobile devices to support collaboration. They also exist to support knowledge construction, research skills and problem solving. In addition to all this, one skill that mobile learning devices really offer possibilities is with skill development in communication.

It’s not Twitter that matters but how using Twitter can be used to develop collaboration skills. It’s not blogs that matter but how using blogs can help develop communication skills. It’s not mobile access to the Internet that matters but how mobile access can help develop research skills which in turn helps to develop skills in knowledge construction.

This blog post is a turning point for me. While I have discussed skill development using mobile devices before, I am now looking to move away from superficial posts and to think deeper on this topic.