Archive for the ‘reflections’ 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.

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.

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?

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?

When I’m looking for updates on current events, whether it be news related, the latest sport scores or entertainment, I reach for my iPhone. When I’m at work during the sweltering heat or during the frigid cold months and I need a weather update to inform my decision on indoor or outdoor recess, I reach for my iPhone. When I need to communicate with family, friends or colleagues, I often reach for my iPhone.

None of what I stated above is unique but it is extremely revolutionary. The shift from old mediums of information dissemination and attainment to mobile technology has been lightning fast. As a young student in elementary school, I went to the television or newspaper if I wanted news. In fact, I still have old newspapers from the first days of the 1991 invasion of Iraq. I would go to the same mediums for weather related information and long distance communication was always by telephone. I remember when being able to use 3-way calling to have a distance group conversation was revolutionary. If we go back one more generation, my parents grew up only with newspapers and only when they became adults did early telephones and televisions begin making their way in people’s homes. Where we once had to own various devices to communicate, now we just need one – a smart phone. On it, we can make calls, watch video, engage in group conversations, access information and current events and much, much more.

This shift to accessibility of information and communication from anywhere has changed our society in a big way. For example, our physical location can be constantly tracked where once this was not possible. This change can be beneficial when trying to connect with others while also creating new issues around privacy. Where once we had to travel to physical centres (i.e. a library) to access books and other mediums of information, we now can access the entire library of the world from wherever we are from our mobile device. This is beneficial as information is available immediately when we need it but may be creating problems with people’s attention spans, memory and note-taking skills. Where we once could only really interact with people in our own physical proximity, we can now interact with anyone in the world, whether we have actually met them face-to-face or not. We can interact and converse on topics of interest from wherever we find ourselves to whoever finds themselves on the same social media platform both synchronously and asynchronously. The flip side of this is that we may be spending so much time interacting with people at a distance that we may actually be hurting our relationships with those near us. This is an irony of sorts; we may become more anti-social the more we interact with people online though our mobile devices.

All of this has definite implications for kids in schools as the societal changes affecting adults affect kids too. They too will want to search for information online from their mobile devices when they need it (i.e. during a test). They too will be facing issues of anti-social behaviour as they spend more and more time online on social media sites. They too want to check in to places online at the risk of being followed by a predator.

In essence, our patterns of behaviour have changed as our society has become more mobile. Here is another example of how our technology changes our behaviour and modes of living. Our social institutions, including our schools, have to ensure that policies and practices evolve to better address needs within these new social realities. We have seen changes in schools in a number of ways: updates to Acceptable Use Policies to better reflect the realities of greater access to information and easier dissemination, bring your our device (BYOD) initiatives, new forms of distance learning, etc. The most important, and most difficult, change required is a change in mindset about technology use in schools. As we continue to journey through this evolution to mobility, we need to ensure that our focus is not on subverting technology students use, but on leveraging it to support their learning. We must always keep our greatest goal in mind – student learning and student success. This is our purpose for being. Technology has always improved our lives. Mobile technology can be used to improve our teaching and learning. All that is required is a desire to make that happen – everything else will follow.