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.

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.


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.

I have just recently been appointed to the role of principal and began my new leadership role the first day back from the Christmas break in January. After blogging about the use of mobile devices from the perspective of classroom instruction and student learning for over five years, I now find myself considering how these same tools that can be used to help students learn can also be used to strengthen the home-school connection.


In experimenting with new ideas and practices, I have turned to two of my most trusted tools – my iPhone and Twitter. Immediately after beginning in my new role, I set up a school Twitter account and started tweeting; tweeting images of some of the work our students have produced; tweeting links to resources for parents and community members; tweeting reminders about upcoming school and board events; tweeting updates about bus cancelations after the most recent snow storm. In discussing the purpose of this account with staff, parents and admin colleagues, I have described my use of a school Twitter account as a daily newsfeed between monthly newsletters. I’ve also mentioned that the best part is that I update the Twitter feed from my mobile device so that I can really tweet updates from anywhere.

As Twitter doesn’t compile statistics as a blog would, it’s hard to say just how many people are accessing these tweets. One could look at follower counts but I have expressly stated to the parent community in other communications that the profile is public and one does not need a Twitter account to access tweets. This makes it difficult to know what the depth and breadth of use is after only 5 weeks of tweeting. I would definitely be open to ideas on how I could track traffic.

The other consideration is that this type of use of a social media tool is still really new for schools. While using Twitter as a school communication tool may seem obvious to those who are already engaged in these tools, it may not be so obvious the the wider community who so not use social media tools as often. Building community capacity is part of the work that needs to be done in order to really make the use of social media tools a viable way to communicate with the wider school community. What does help is that Twitter is now a well known tool used by celebrities and traditional media so the task of explaining what Twitter itself is has mostly been taken care of already.

I believe that using Twitter as a school communication tool helps to inspire public confidence in the work that we do everyday with their children. It opens up the school in a way where the community can be updated on a daily basis on the dynamic work that teaching and support staff do with their children that has typically not been communicated well enough in the past.

When I sense that the account has started to become an entrenched tool, I would like to experiment with other communication ideas that use other web tools. What could those be? One idea could be conducting surveys to gauge community sentiment using Google Drive. I know there are many ideas and examples on the web and I look to my PLN on Twitter to point me to interesting examples and ideas.

I am interested in your thoughts and ideas on using mobile tools to increase parent engagement in the school community. Please use the comment box to share. If you are interested in seeing what I am doing with Twitter to communicate with my school community, you can see/follow the school Twitter account here.

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

The Power of Networks

Posted: September 23, 2012 in digital culture, mlearning, video, youtube

In this RSA Animate video, we learn about the shift in thinking about the connections of life. What is presented is the idea that our increased understanding of the complexity and inter-connectivity of life has resulted in a shift in the metaphor we use when categorising this inter-connectivity – a shift from the use of the tree metaphor to a metaphor of network or web. While this video is not about mlearning per say, it does provide insight into just how complex our world is and allows us to deduce that mlearning devices can help us navigate and develop these connections.