Archive for the ‘mobilelearning’ Category

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?

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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.

On December 7th, my employer school board used a PA Day to organize and connect all education staff of the board from their remote locations via an internet stream to watch two speakers discuss the issue of 21st century fluencies. It was a mammoth undertaking I am sure but one I found successful as it used communication technology to demonstrate the power of communication technology as staff listened to two speakers talking about the power of communication technology.

The two speakers, Ian Jukes and Will Richardson, both discussed how education systems in general, and schools in particular, need to do things differently because of the nature of new technology and how it’s transforming society as a whole. One of the ideas that really struck me was the idea of ‘digital bombardment’. Presented by Ian Jukes, it is the idea that all of us, including kids, have this pervasive exposure to digital technology.

When Jukes first mentioned it, the first idea that came to my mind was that this was a new and novel way of discussing the mature topic of information overload. Upon further reflection, however, I’m seeing that digital bombardment is about more that just information overload. It is the fact that all day, everyday, we are interacting with a multitude of different devices exposing us to content in many forms and that this exposure is nonstop. Another striking element to this notion is that unlike information overload, digital bombardment may not be just a phenomena in western society. With cell phones and smart phones connecting people to the Internet in less privileged countries in a way computers have never been able to accomplish, for the first time ever, we may be seeing a global social shift brought about by mainly mobile devices.

We could go on and on here about stats. We could discuss the amount of content being uploaded to the Internet on a daily basis or how many internet-connected cell phones there are globally and how this is connecting people in areas that were previously unconnected. We won’t do that here because I think you know this already. It’s really the implications of this that I find interesting.

One implication is how this social shift is being driven but mobile devices. I have stated many times that I often write my blog posts from my phone. I listen to music from my phone (both purchased music and streamed music). I listen to radio programs and podcasts from my phone. I watch, read and listen to news stories and books from my phone. I communicate with others and stay current from my phone. I get directions and ask for directions from my phone. I can even control my TV now from my phone. I’ve been doing all this for some time now so none of this even phases me anymore. What has struck me now is that many of these activities and more can be done by anyone with a smart phone and these are becoming ubiquitous in geographic areas never seen before. The lower entry costs of mobile devices vs. computers is truly connecting and bombarding people globally.

Another implication is how we are connecting with each other. While I am definitely and advocate of the wider use if mobile devices, I sometimes can’t help but to feel that this constant screen watching is creating this Orwellian world of external social control through information dissipation through technology and its only getting worse. Everywhere we look, we see screens – the mall, the doctor’s office, schools, the gym, etc. and we bring our own screen to fill in the void in those public and private places that may not have one. Access to unlimited information is a good thing but what happens if access and exposure to information is directed maliciously by some external source?

Bring it back to education, Juke’s point was essentially that we have to adapt and do things differently in a world where digital technology and screens invade every space that we all inhabit – kids and adults alike. Rather than bemoan the state of affairs which are beyond our control, let’s work on what we can control and leverage what kids bring with them to help them learn. This is what this blog has always been about – leveraging technology to improve learning. It continues to be relevant and becoming more important as the years go on. The key piece, however, is not just leveraging technology, but leveraging technology to improve learning.  If technology use is not planned around specific learning goals aimed at meeting specific curriculum expectations and is only used by children to surf the web or Youtube with no real learning aim, then it would be better not to integrate technology at all.  Technological tools need to help students learn if they are going to be relevant and useful.

Children entering kindergarten this year will graduate from high school in 2026 and the oldest mobile technology they will know is a first generation iPad or an iPhone 3. Given this reality, what do our schools need to become in order to meet the needs of these children graduating in 2026?

It has been over one year since I last provided a list of recent articles/blog posts that I have read that have helped to develop my thinking on the topic of to mobile learning.  Below is the 6th list in this series of lists.  The other reading lists can be found by following the links provided at the end of this post.

1) Dispelling the Myths About 1:1 Environments: An Edutopia article outlining 5 myths about 1:1 environments and responses to the myths stemming from experiences with a 1:1 iPads and Google Apps for Education launches at an American High School;

2) Siri, Take This Down: Will Voice Control Shape Our Writing: This article from The Atlantic looks at how our technology has shaped our communication and how voice activation my be doing it again;

3) Being a Digital Native Isn’t Enough: This blog post argues that the idea of today’s children being digital native applies to the social uses of technology, not the academic uses.  We need to teach children how to use technology to learn;

4) Bring Your Own Device: A Guide for Schools: this support document comes from the Department of Education of the Province of Alberta and focuses on strategies in the implementation of BYOD in schools;

5) Mobile Phones in the Classroom – Teachers Share Tips: This article reports on different ways teachers are using mobile phones in teaching and learning;

6) Top Apps for Professional Development: A list of mobile apps divided into categories that teachers can use for their own self-directed professional development;

7) New Guide! Mobile Devices for Learning: What you Need to Know: This publication by edutopia supports the successful use of mobile devices in classrooms by providing ideas and resources ranging from using the technology to getting parents involved.  A free registration to edutopia is required to access the pdf;

8) The Teacher’s Guide to Digital Citizenship: A look at what a digital citizenship curriculum could look like.

Links to the other reading lists:

Mobile Learning: A Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: Another Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 3rd Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 4th Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 5th Reading List

In the blog post, titled, “Is eLearning on Tablets really Mobile Learning (Chime In)“, RJ Jazquez discusses his opinion on on the question of whether eLearning is really mobile learning after having the question posed to him in a comment on another blog post.  In the above linked blog post, Jazquez argues that eLearning on a tablet is not mobile learning as he feels that in order for learning to be considered mobile learning, a uniquely mobile experience must take place.  This uniquely mobile experience is one that cannot be replicated on a desktop computer or in any other way.  As RJ states:

Here we are fully immersed in the most amazing computing shift in history, armed with mobile devices that set Learning free and all we can do is convert traditional desktop eLearning for consumption on the iPad, but with nothing to show for in the way of being uniquely mobile?

Unacceptable! It’s time to set the bar higher!…Ask yourself this question, is the learning experience UNIQUELY MOBILE?

While I agree with RJ that this is an excellent question, I disagree with his conclusion.  I don’t believe that using a mobile device to replicate learning that can be done on a desktop computer and calling it mobile learning necessarily sets the bar too low.  In fact, defining mobile learning as a learning experience that is ‘uniquely mobile’ creates too narrow a parameter which ultimately limits the true power of mobile learning.

In my humble opinion, I believe that the true power of mobile learning lies in the ability of one to replicate learning on a mobile device and then use the uniquely powerful features of a mobile device (i.e. learning at a distance) to enhance it. RJ lists 7 criteria that he believes one should use to judge whether a learning experiences can be defined as a mobile learning experience. True, in the title, RJ focuses on tablets but I believe that mobile devices are also smart phones and media players (i.e. iPod Touch). Below, I list his criteria and my responses to each of them (which are coloured in red). Keep in mind that my responses assume that smart phones and media players can also be used as mobile learning devices :

  • Is the experience re-imagined for touch or is it just a conversion from something that was intended for the precision of the tip of the arrow of a cursor? Not all mobile devices are touch screen and defining it as such creates too narrow a definition of mobile learning.  Traditional iPods can be used to help students listen to audiobooks or read text.  Blackberries are mobile devices too that can be used for mlearning but many models are not touchscreens.
  • Does something magical happen when I rotate my device from landscape to portrait and vice versa? In other words, when in landscape view, do I get additional resources when I turn my device into portrait mode? A great example of this is the YouTube app, it provides a unique experience in both portrait and landscape mode. Being able to get a different view when you rotate the devices doesn’t make the experience ‘uniquely mobile’.  The landscape view is a way manufacturers try to incorporate more resources on a smaller screen to try an mimic the desktop.  This is not a ‘uniquely mobile’ function – is an attempt to be more like the screen of a desktop computer.
  • Is the content itself the navigation? In other words, can I swipe left and right to advance forward and backward, or do I have to use those next and previous buttons I used back in the 20th century? This has nothing to do with mobile learning – this is simply a hardware/software feature set.  By the way, I can swipe left and right on the touchpad of my Macbook.
  • Does this learning experience take advantage of at least one of the sensor superpowers built into these amazing mobile devices, for example the GPS or the accelerometer? I’ll agree with this one.  This is one of the reasons mobile learning is so powerful.
  • Does the location of the navigation change accordingly between devices to make the experience seamless for learners as they shift from device to device? This is more of an ease-of-use argument, not an argument for mobile learning.  Location of navigation buttons are not an important element in defining mobile learning nor is it an important element when trying to make the case for the importance and effectiveness of mobile learning.
  • Does it look great not just on the iPad, but also on all other devices? Agreed.  However, the list of those ‘other devices’ also needs to include laptops which, in my opinion, are also mobile devices and strictly speaking, a laptop is also a computer.
  • Is this learning experience uniquely mobile? If so, in what way? My opinion: being ‘uniquely mobile’ is too narrow a definition for mobile learning.

In essence, this is a question of definition.  In defining mobile learning, I believe that we need to focus more on the activity of learning at a distance using a mobile device and not on the devices themselves.  Devices change but the activity remains the same.  Mobile learning is about:

  • Learning on the go by connecting to the Internet to access/create content from both inside and outside the school day and the school building – this can include, but is not limited to, listening to audiobooks or reading preliminary information on a topic on Wikipedia;
  • Engaging in on the spot, just-in-time learning using a mobile device that can access the Internet, the largest database of information humans have ever created;
  • Engaging in conversations with other students/colleagues on the content of learning from wherever one finds themselves using the Internet, the largest chat forum humans have ever created

Therefore, is eLearning on Tablets really mLearning? Yes.  mLearning is eLearning and a whole lot more.

Digital mobile technology is changing our society.  The ease at which we are able to convert information into digital formats and then consume this content on a mobile device is changing how we consume information.  A good example of this is with audiobooks.  The increasingly widespread use of digital audiobooks has led to an increased discussion over whether the mainstream use of audiobooks will change the nature of reading.  While audiobooks themselves are not new (i.e. books on tape, books on CD), the advent of digital files, digital downloads and the widespread availability of audiobooks in digital format for consumption on mobile devices have led many to believe that audiobooks may weaken reading ability and render reading written text less important.

Digital mobile technology is also changing the way we create content. This much we know.  The new change is in how we record ideas.  As digital formatting is changing the nature of reading through audiobooks, voice dictation software is beginning to change the way we create content through the writing.  With the advent of voice input software for mobile devices, such as Apple’s Siri, and voice dictation on Apple’s computers, we are seeing the beginning of the mainstream use of voice commands and voice dictation.  Once again, voice dictation is not new (i.e. someone dictating to a scribe, Dragon Naturally Speaking software). Unlike the recent past, however, voice dictation software is now coming included when once purchases a particular hardware device and the software is becoming much better at understanding natural speech without any sort of ‘training’ period.  This is leading some to wonder whether this is going to change the nature of writing.

I recently read an article on this very topic titled, “Siri, Take This Down: Will Voice Control Shape Our Writing?“. In this article, there is a discussion of how the nature of writing changed with the advent of the typewriter.  The article quotes philosopher Martin Hiedegger,

In the time of the first dominance of the typewriter, a letter written on this machine still stood for a breach of good manners. Today a hand-written letter is an antiquated and undesired thing; it disturbs speed reading. Mechanical writing deprives the hand of its rank in the realm of the written word and degrades the word to a means of communication. In addition, mechanical writing provides this “advantage” that it conceals the handwriting and thereby the character. The typewriter makes everyone look the same.

Growing up and living in a world of typed text, I personally find the concept of a person’s character coming through in their style of writing/penmanship interesting.  I’ve always read typed text and learned to focus on the ideas presented rather than on the character of the person writing.  Nevertheless, the idea is presented that a shift in communication style occurred when people began writing words down. Then a shift in writing style occurred when people began typing words rather than writing words.  The question now becomes, ‘If we can now dictate our words, will our writing style change again?’  The article makes the point that voice dictation may shift our writing away from a formal and reflective style to a conversational style.

In reading this article and taking some time to reflect on this issue, it struck me just how our technology changes us.  We created the technology of writing to allow for ideas to be recorded, compiled and shared over time and space and this changed the way we communicated.  It became less important to speak well and more important to reflect and record well.  It appears that voice dictation is bringing us back to our evolutionary roots in terms of communication.  If we begin to write less and dictate more, then product of our work may be less formal and more conversational and it will force us to become better oral communicators as well.

How does this all affect education?  Really, it’s revolutionary.  The grand focus on reading and writing may begin to give way to a grander focus on listening (audiobooks) and oral communication (voice dictation).  Sitting quietly at desks reading and writing may give way to more talk and listening exercises.  In addition to reading comprehension, we will also need to focus more on oral comprehension.  This shift may come faster than we anticipate as it is already possible for students with the most updated Mac OSX software to dictate their work to their computer and produce a written piece for their teacher.

Another point to consider is whether this change is a ‘bad thing’.  Some may say that if one can simply talk their ideas into a device, then they will lose the important skills associated with writing and writing conventions.  Personally, I don’t believe that ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ is the correct way to approach this change.  If our goal as a school system is to humanize children and to prepare them for life in civilized society, then our instruction has to reflect the social requirements demanded by society.  If our society demands critical thinkers who are strong oral communicators, then that is what our instruction must focus on.  One way to look at this change is that writing was invented to address a need; namely to create a record of ideas.  Voice dictation can now address another need; to simplify the manual task of writing to allow us to focus more of our mental power on thinking and developing new ideas instead of focusing some of that mental power on the mechanics of writing.  Some may even argue the merits of developing critical thinkers instead of suppressing critical thinking through an overemphasis on the mechanics of writing.  It is important to have people able to write well but what is the purpose of excellent writers who really have nothing to say? I am not suggesting that we abandon reading and writing altogether.  After all, written text is still the backbone of our social fabric and written ideas are still what make our civilized society tick so effectively and efficiently.  Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the importance of oral communication and how, through voice dictation, the nature and style of what is written may change because of mode of input is beginning to change.

The striking part for me is that all this can really be accomplished on a mobile device.  We can dictate text messages and other short text pieces now.  What will our world sound like when we begin to dictate larger pieces of writing to our mobile devices as well?