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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.

In the first post of this series on mobile devices and 21st century skills, I focused in the use of mobile devices in developing communication skills. We move now to a discussion in the use if mobile devices and knowledge construction.

In the days before computer technology and the Internet, access to information was scarce. If one needed information, one needed to consult books which where mainly found in libraries that one had to travel to specific locations in order to access information that may or may not be up-to-date. Alternatively, one could access the knowledge of an expert. Teaching was often about information dissemination and the ‘just in case’ teaching philosophy prevailed (let us teach X and Y just in case student need to know it in the future).

This teaching mindset is now obsolete. True, information is important, maybe more important than ever, but access to the most up-to-date information is not longer restricted and information is no longer difficult to attain. As stated time and again in this blog, most people, in fact most students, walk around everyday with immediate access to the Internet – the largest and most dynamic library of information humans have every built.

Therefore, knowledge construction is about a change in focus from knowledge attainment to skill development. Knowledge construction is about using information in consecutive ways.

How Do we Construct Knowledge in the 21st Century?

1) Is it Knowledge Construction and is Knowledge Construction the Main Requirement? It is very easy to confuse research or information discovery as knowledge construction.  The idea here is that students still need to research and collect information in order to move along in the learning process. However, constructing knowledge does not begin until students begin to use the information they have gathered and do so in meaningful ways. Finding information on a topic and then presenting what the findings mean and offering ways to address needs based on the information found is knowledge construction.  A specific example could include students researching crime rates in a particular area of the country.  Students then use the information they have gathered and, in a presentation or a written paper,  offer an opinion on what strategies have worked to lower crime rates and offer ideas in implementing similar or new strategies. They may even go as far a to state that certain strategies, while they work well in some areas, do not work well in orders because of the variations in local conditions.

2) Are Students Applying Their Knowledge? Similar to what is stated above, mobile devices can easily support information attainment by allowing students to access information online. Lessons designed for the development of 21st century skills have provide opportunities for students to use the information that they attain. In a Geography lesson, students can use demographic information of a country to analyze why that country is scoring poorly on the Human Development Index. Students can then extend their knowledge by providing ideas on how that country could improve by analyzing the data of high scoring countries.

3) Is the Work Students are Doing Interdisciplinary? Some subjects, like math and science, are natural matches. Others, like science and history, are less so. Lessons developing 21st century skills need to connect subject areas that are not necessarily natural fits. One example I have worked with in presenting on this topic links history and mathematics.  Students are given the task of creating several designs of a catapult and are to measure which design achieves the goal of tossing an object the furthest.  History can be brought in to provide context as students can take on the role of a Roman military engineer tasked with creating the most power and efficient catapult for use by the Roman army it it’s attack of a Carthaginian city.  In this way, students are applying skills of experimentation and mathematics while learning about the social circumstances around the use of the catapult. The mathematics provides the how, history provides the why.

Therefore, the 21st century skill of knowledge construction goes beyond simply gathering information – it moves students to think critically about the information they have researched and use it in meaningful ways.  Application of information and interconnecting ideas across multiple disciplines helps to develop learners that are ready to deal with the complex challenges of today’s digital society.  Empowering students to use digital tools is only the starting point – application is what follows.

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.

BYOD on iPad

For years, the conversation around the integration of more and more technology in teaching and learning often revolved around the high costs associated with purchasing updated equipment and maintaining a sustainable infrastructure.  After all, if, in publicly funded education, if we are going to serve the needs of all students, we need to provide equal access to devices to all students and equal access often comes at a high price – especially when equal access means purchasing computers.

More recently, the conversation has shifted from purchasing computers to purchasing mobile devices.  Whether they are tablet computers, cell phones or media devices, as long as there were ample productivity apps available as well as usable assess to the internet through WiFi, school would be able to better afford the cost of assess to technology and provide opportunities for ’21st Century Learning’ as these devices cost a mere fraction of the price of a computer.  Difficulties still exist with questions of whether students can personalize the devices school lend them, equity issues around providing one device per child (while cheaper than one laptop per child, the cost of providing access to a device for each student in a school is still steep), etc.

Even more recently, we have moved to a new stage in the evolution of 1:1 learning – bring your own device (BYOD).  These days, many children from many income levels are coming to school with devices that have WiFi capability.  Whether they are smart phones or media players, children now have the ability to use modern technology to help them learn as many now bring the devices to school with them everyday.  Suddenly, the costs for 1:1 learning have dropped dramatically as schools and school districts only have to provide WiFi infrastructure and a small number of devices for those students who do not have devices of their own (after all, we are still concerned about issues of equity). In addition, as students have their own personal devices with them all the time, they also have access to learning opportunities with them all the time.  While some may critique that BYOD shifts the financial burden of cost from school districts to already financially burdened families, I would argue that if families are already shouldering that burden, why not let students use the devices to support their own learning?  If families cannot afford to shoulder that burden, schools can still provide devices for students to use while in school.

Where as the conversation was mainly dominated by costs, allowing students to bring their own devices will allow more financial flexibility to schools and school districts. This ultimately shifts the focus from purchasing equipment to teaching acceptable use and integration of technology into day-to-day instruction.  We really are reaching that point of ubiquity in society where access to Internet-enabled devices is becoming less and less of an issue and acceptable use and leveraging them for learning has become more and more important.  The next few years are really going to be exciting as not only are attitudes to leveraging technology finally changing, but greater availability of devices and access to technology tools is now creating an atmosphere where revolutionary changes to teaching and learning are really possible.

This brief post provides a link to an article I found informative on the role technology can play to support struggling readers. While not a post about mobile leaning per say, it does provide food for thought on how technology in general can support teachers support struggling readers.

Article: Five Reasons Readers Need Technology

I have been reading through a number of articles on the Educational Technology Debate (ETD) website.  The articles have been focusing on a debate over which form of ICT technology will provide the best and most cost-effective impact on the education of children in underdeveloped or developing countries.  Some articles argue in favour of computers while others argue in favour of mobile phones.

mobile phone and computerThe key assumption in this entire debate is the acceptance that ICT helps students learn and that a one-to-one ratio of technology per child is the ideal.  As the debate revolves around educating children in under-priviledged countries, an obvious focus is on getting the biggest bang for one’s buck.  However, as one-to-one is hardly reflective of classrooms in developed countries either, this debate seems to me to be somewhat applicable to all classrooms around the world.

The articles that argue in favour of computers seem to focus on the fact that even low end computers have computational and media capabilities that far surpass mobile phones, especially the older and limited capability models that are found in underdeveloped countries.  Those that argue in favour of using mobile phones argue that the cost of a mobile phone, even when connectivity costs are factored in, are cheap enough that many individuals can afford them without assistance.  Even basic phones have very useful communication capabilities as well as basic productivity tools.  As mobile phones are more affordable, they can be placed in the hands of more students.  One article mentions Moore’s Law – while this is applicable to all ICT, I feel that mobile phones have much more room to grow than computers so proper focus now can lead to greater dividends later.

Personally, I side with those that argue in favour of mobile phones.  In the developed world, many smart phones are alreadcomputer and netbooky mini-computers capable of competing with netbooks.  As technology continues it’s torrent pace forward, mobile phones will essentially become pocket computers with the added ability to make simple phone calls.  In the developing world, it will likely take more time before smart phones become part of the landscape but again, mobile phones are becoming more like computers not the other way around.  In addition, the trend in computing has always moved from larger and static to smaller and mobile.  First it was the massive mainframe computer, then the personal computer, then the laptop and now the netbook/mobile phone.  Does it make sense to hang on to a technology that is on the outgoing end of the technology curve?

Check out some of these thought-provoking articles and share your opinions on these exciting developments.  We are truly in the midst of a social revolution.

In this blog, I’ve often focused on the use of media players and cell phones to improve the teaching of teachers and to OMPTimprove the learning of students.  Admitting, my focus has always been on the use of these devices in a western, mainly North American school setting.  However, the use of mobile devices to improve learning is beginning to spread to poor and remote areas of the world as well.   The power of media players in to bringing information to poor and remote areas of the world is that little or no technological infrastructure needs to be in place and portable media players are relatively cheap.  The One Media Player per Teacher (OMPT) project aims to provide teachers who teach the children of the world’s one billion poorest with media players containing information, PD, training materials and lessons in an attempt to lift poor countries out of poverty through high quality primary education.

As it states on the project’s website:

“The information age has not arrived on a global scale. The Internet revolution has yet to reach billions of the world’s poor. Most of these lack access to computers and live far away from the Internet. Many are illiterate and cannot understand even a simple Web page.

Yet, there is hope for the poor.

The information revolution can indeed reach the barely reachable. It can change their lives. For those trapped in poverty, the most valuable data on the Internet may not be Web pages, but rather sounds and images, because audio-visual files can educate even the illiterate.”

Using media players for learning is not a unique idea.  After all, that is the central theme of this blog and those of many other educators.  However, there is a certain sense of moral imperative in taking the portable media players, filling them with audio and video podcasts, training material and other learning resources and providing them to teachers in poor countries with the aim of improving teaching practices and bring some of the masses of information found on the WWW to the remotest areas of the world.  To me, this once again demonstrates the power technology has to connect human beings and to improve the lives even of those who are physically removed from technological infrastructure and are too poor to purchase technology for themselves.

OMPT wesite: http://www.ompt.org

OMPT Blog: http://blog.ompt.org/