Archive for the ‘edushifts’ Category

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 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.

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.

Before the dawn of the Internet, who would have ever dreamed that the supremacy of network television would ever be challenged? The impact of television on our society has been so pronounced that it changed our communication habits, social habits, and even house design and organization. Today, the Internet has, and continues to be, changing this prior revolution and changing it rapidly.

TVWhile the Internet has been mainstream for around 20 years, only recently have we had the infrastructure in place to support the type of communication needed to challenge the dominance of the network television framework. What changes have resulted? Internet and mobile use has skyrocketed. This Infographic is just one example of how the use of the internet is expanding quickly. Of note for this blog is the section in the Infographic on online video consumption. Another consequence: the once mighty Blockbuster video has gone the way of the dodo thanks to online streaming services such as iTunes and Netflix. These same services are also putting massive pressure on cable service providers as many people begin to cut their cable and rely solely on steaming media.

While I myself have not yet cut the cord on cable, I have been investigating alternative sources and starting to reorganize the way I consume media for an eventual cord cut on cable. I have found that while solutions are available, cutting the cord on cable is not a seamless feat yet for one major reason: limited access to live feeds or live video events.

Allow me to elaborate. In terms of watching movies or TV shows, there are services such as YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and iTunes – much of what one needs is there and no cable service can match the selection nor the convenience provided by those services. When it comes to news feeds, I have noticed that some TV networks have begun to stream their live news feeds or morning shows online. Once can access these streams on a television using available tools such as a simple iPhone and Apple TV connection. We can stream those shows on our TV as if the feed were coming from a cable line. What is currently problematic is live sports or other live events broadcast on TV. I have yet to find a legal solution to this problem and is what has kept me from cutting cable. However, even as I write this, this scenario is starting to change as some sporting leagues, such as the NFL and NHL, are providing access to games by purchasing online streaming packages.

While not yet as elegant and smooth as simply ordering a TV package from a cable provider, online solutions are catching up. This will benefit consumers as cable packages are not cheap. With shows broadcast at inconvenient times (PVRs have helped with this point but are not cheap) and with so many channels that we pay for that go unwatched, paying for cable service is no longer an efficient model of content delivery. The Internet is changing media consumption because it allows us to watch video on demand, either without cost or very cheaply, and the quality of bandwidth and streaming video is improving quickly.

web browsersImplications for our education systems: With the increase of cheap or free videos on the web, access to video materials to support learning needs is becoming an important resources – mainly because of the on-demand nature of the videos. Of course, educators need to ensure that copyright and licensing agreements are adhered to – this will be dependent on local laws and school district policies. Nevertheless, the need to spend valuable school monetary resources purchasing video content that quickly becomes obsolete (if not the content, then the format it’s viewed on) is no longer necessary.

Due to the fact that it still takes some effort to access online video, especially as a cable replacement, cord cutting is not happening as quickly as it could be. However, in time, even network TV will realize that effectiveness and efficiency of online streaming for the consumer. When that day arrives, cable companies who have not yet diversifies into other businesses will also go the way of the dodo.

Back in 2007 when I began this blog, the main thrust was sharing ideas about why mobile devices can improve teaching and learning. Now in 2013, not only has the use of mobile devices become much more widespread both in schools and society at large, but the attitudes toward the use of mobile devices for learning has changed. Many in the education system are much more willing to accept mobile devices as learning tools. Where in 2007 school districts were banning cell phones in schools, in 2013, they are being embraced with the goal of creating new and rich learning environments for students.

As a result, I’ve decided to shift my focus a bit on this blog from the why of mobile learning to the how. By how I mean ‘how can mobile learning be used to develop 21st century skills?’ I hope to answer this question in a series of blog posts that look at various 21st century skills and ways mobile devices can be used to support their development.

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We begin with the most basic of human skills – communication. It is this skill that allowed individual humans to band together into groups. It is this skill that allowed those groups to form civilizations. It is this skill that allowed ideas to be shared, be it through oral language or the written word, between civilization both across expanses of space and time. As technology has charged, so has access to information and as a result, communication needs in the 21 century are different. In no other time in human history has anyone able to communicate with anyone else anywhere in the world and with groups of people in the millions. This new ability to tweet a statement that can be read by millions instantaneously requires a new skill set.

How Do We Develop Communication Skills in the 21st Century?

1) Incorporating Multimedia: Audiences consume information in a variety of ways. Where ideas were once shared via direct oral communication or through the written word, audiences can now share ideas by listening to audiobooks, watch them portrayed in online video or look at them expressed in imagery. Students today need to be able to communicate ideas that include multiple forms of media. Asking students to create a blog or wiki that may or may not be written on their mobile devices is not enough. They need to augment their ideas. One way can be by posting images or video taken from their mobile devices and upload it to their blog or wiki alongside text not to regurgitate the same information but to express an idea in different ways.

2) Know Your Audience: This is an indispensable job skill today. Communicating ideas that are relevant to the target audience is not a new concept – businesses and the marketing industry have done this for generations. The difference today is that being able to access anyone and everyone on the globe through communication technologies now means that we must all now frame our communication to an audience. In order to communicate to our target audience, we must know something about them and that is where mobile devices come in. One can use online tools such as Google Forms to poll one’s audience or use Twitter to engage in conversation with them. The better one knows an audience, the better one can frame communication for them.

3) Connecting Ideas and Supporting Ideas with Evidence: Today’s civilization is extremely connected to information. At our finger tips, we have access to the largest library humans have ever created, the Internet, and the starting point is often one of the largest single source of information on the Internet – Wikipedia. As a result, communication needs to incorporate and connect with other supporting ideas and these ideas need to be supported with evidence. While it is easy today to tweet a 140 character message to a large audience, that audience will not pay much attention if that is the extent of the substance if the ideas shared. Social media is great at connecting people to ideas, but those ideas need to be flushed out, developed, connected to other ideas and supported with facts for anyone to pay attention. Having access to all this information make our communication more about making sense of what’s out there instead of just stating it. Mobile devices can be used to help students research their ideas on the web, use social media to discuss ideas with peers in order to better make sense of them, and the use the mobile device to create a blog or wiki sharing their ideas to a target audience.

In sum, by using multimedia, knowing your audience and connecting and supporting ideas, students can begin to develop the communication skills they need for the 21st century. Mobile devices are support tools that students can utilize to record data (including pictures and video), communicate with audiences and research information.