The History and Future of Mobile Learning: Part 2

Today sees part two of our interview on the History and Future of Mobile Education hit the blog! Recently, our CEO Justin Smith sat down with Professor Mike Sharples – an influential thinker in the realm of EdTech – for an in-depth discussion on mobile learning and the pedagogical concept currently driving tablet adoption in schools across the world.

Do you think teachers may feel threatened by children bringing in their own devices and using them for the wrong reason in the classroom? Do you think it could be potentially disruptive to the classroom if students are not using them for the purpose intended?

One of the things I’ve found from talking to colleagues in Scandinavia, who have the same concerns about cyber safety and inappropriate behaviour, is that they’ve developed a policy of managing mobile devices and are actively encouraging children in responsible use. We’ve started this in the UK as well, with cyber responsibility being taught in Primary and Secondary schools. Once they get into Secondary school and upper Secondary, that provides a foundation for children to bring in their own devices, used under the jurisdiction of proper, managed use. To some extend it goes back to the early 1980’s when children brought in their own pocket calculators. There were similar concerns that technology would take over from traditional methods of arithmetic, and schools brought in policies to manage that. In fact, tablet computers are cheaper in real terms now than the early pocket calculators of the 1980’s, and so the argument that young people can’t afford it is becoming less important, but of course, still needs to be considered. What is a key underlying factor is the need for a proper policy of management.

How do you feel about educational apps and them demonstrating that they can help with attainment?

Demonstrating attainment is really important. I think there are two aspects to this. One of them relates to being able to do something with a mobile device that just wasn’t possible before. For example, mobiles and tablets are sophisticated toolkits. They’ve got built in sensors, accelerometers, light sensors and sound sensors, so you can use them as scientific toolkits. The other is to do with formative assessment. Because the students have their own personal device that they’re using for learning, you have the opportunity to assess them as they learn, to assess them to support their learning. The teacher is able to get continual diagnostic information back about how the student is progressing; what problems they have; which assignments or quizzes they’re failing on, not just for individual learners but across the class as well, as dashboards allow teachers to see how the whole class is doing at a glance.

In the process of tablet adoption in schools and by individuals, we do have to understand that EdTech integration can take a little time. It’s not an immediate panacea for any problem that we face – we can’t blame the technology. Do you feel that for the first time in a very long time we’re getting intergenerational learning? Where we get the student coming into the classroom with apps that they’ve identified help with learning at home, vs. what the teacher feels is appropriate? Are we seeing that one can learn from the other?

Yes, it’s a fascinating possibility and we’re just starting to see that happen. Because the children can carry their learning from one classroom to another on the device, and also from the classroom to home, we’re starting to see children doing their own interest led projects at home, and then bringing that learning back into class.

One way that we’ve done this is through enquiry based learning, where a teacher sets up a science investigation in the class, and then the children go off and carry out the investigation at home, subsequently bringing the results back into class. An example of this centred on healthy eating, and started with the teacher discussing with the children – ‘What’s a healthy diet?’ They then used their mobile devices to take photos of their meals, and with a simple app they could then record the diet of each meal, which automatically calculated its nutritional content; the carbohydrates and fats etc, so the children could engage with those results and compare them in class.

With over 600,000 tablets currently found within primary and secondary schools in the UK, and forecast to be over 1 million in 2016, it’s here to stay. How do you see the future playing out?

To some extent the technology recedes into the background. It’s what you do with it, it’s how you individualise your own learning, how you manage yourself as a lifelong learner, how you share the learning with other people, and the role of the teacher in orchestrating and managing that learning, from the earliest age through school and into college and university. The teachers will have a very much enhanced role, not as deliverers of content, but as managers, supporters and participants of effective learning journeys. So the future is much more complex, because it won’t just be contained within the classroom, it will be a lifelong learning journey that all of us take. It will also be a very productive environment, as it will enable us to use the technology in ways that suit us best to individualise and collaborate in our learning.

It is clear from this conversation that there are true benefits to the learner from the use of tablet and mobile technology, following on from a trend that extends back 30 years to the first commercial calculator. There is evidently a lot of work that still needs to be done to support the teaching community and to ensure that all members of staff in schools are fully confident when it comes to using 1:1 technology in class.

In another session, Justin and Professor Mike will talk about the personal development of teachers and how they can be supported going forward, to best ensure that this surge of EdTech is a truly successful change in education.

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