Educators across the globe are looking for ways to improve learning and teaching in the Information Age. Whereas the real world boasts a ubiquitousness of mobile devices, Internet connectivity as well as an always-on, on-demand lifestyle that revolves around a user-centred information exchange, ICT in schools is often rather rudimentary and learning is still frequently teacher-centred and based on information transfer. In order to innovate and adapt to a constantly changing (digital) landscape, a comprehensive learning approach that blends the old and the new needs to be put into place. We should strive towards preparing pupils for life and their future careers in the Information Age where there’s an increasing emphasis on creative work. We should foster collaboration and communication in order to allow knowledge and skills to be socially constructed. Pupils need to become autonomous and critically thinking individuals and have ICT skills to help them achieve these objectives. The consensus is that it would be truly revolutionary if students were able to fall back on a tool that would accompany them in their learning and if this tool could be easily taken with them, so that learning could potentially take place anytime and anywhere.
Mobile devices seem well-suited - at least on paper - to help learners acquire the knowledge and skills expected of them in the Digital Age. They are essentially communication devices with built-in sharing functionalities thus lending themselves perfectly to collaborating and exchanging information. Furthermore, they are instant on devices, therefore granting a great deal of spontaneity and flexibility in the classroom and due to their form factor and powerful CPU they can be used for a variety of tasks without taking up much space. However, it needs bearing in mind that new technology in itself is not a cure to ailing school programs and/or school results. So, rather than blindly jumping on the ‘mobile learning’ bandwagon, I aimed to carefully dissect how mobile devices can significantly enhance a 1:1 learning environment by going hands-on with these tools in the field.
The mobile learning project was executed over a three-week period during the first term of the 2012-2013 school year with two different classes at the Lycée Aline Mayrisch Luxembourg. Over the course of the project, lessons as well as homework invited active use of mobile devices. In total, 14 iPad tablets were put at my disposal for the duration of the project. Because of the relatively large number of students who already owned tablet computers, it was almost possible to outfit entire classes with these devices. The main objective was to determine the usefulness of mobile devices within a regular classroom setting dealing with regular curriculum tasks. The project set out to determine whether mobile devices are viable alternatives to aging laptop programs and whether mobile devices can boost learner creativity and autonomy. It should be noted that the logistics involved in working with mobile devices are substantial. Wireless online connectivity must be provided and devices must be configured, managed and deployed. In addition, rather than simply using PDF worksheets or digitized course books, teachers should really set up new and interactive learning tasks, which again is rather time-consuming.
Each lesson sequence was informed by the curriculum and culminated in a multi-tiered problem-solving assignment that relied on skills acquired throughout the sequence. Bloom’s digital taxonomy helped structure the sequence and informed the choice of applications that were used. This resulted in an increased number of creative tasks. One of the most helpful apps, however, was Edmodo, our learning and communication hub. Edmodo is a social network designed specifically for educational purposes, is universally accessible and allows for easy file sharing via its digital backpack feature. It should be noted that while iTunes U can be exploited for similar purposes, the latter is exclusively available to iOS users.
The following lists what mobile devices allowed us to do - and which would have been difficult to do on other platforms:
- interactive presentations with NearPod that allowed everyone to take part and provided instant feedback to the teacher
- digital mind mapping (allowing for easy editing, colour-coding and sharing)
- keeping a digital portfolio stored in the cloud with Evernote
- video tutorials, screencasts and visual presentation support with Explain Everything or Educreations
- more creative, visual tasks with Pic Collage
- real-time document sharing/editing and instant teacher feedback with Google Drive
Generally speaking, mobile devices had a positive impact on learning and teaching, especially in terms of motivation, productivity and learner autonomy. Learners were very eager to participate in this project and their generally positive feedback suggests that the project was successful in motivating students. The project was rather successful in terms of improving learners‘ English skills as well as ICT skills. Of course, enhancing learning and innovation skills as well as information, media and technology skills are long-term objectives, as is developing certain language skills. Therefore, it is difficult to evaluate the impact this project has had on learners‘ long-term cognitive and linguistic development. All of these skills need to be fostered regularly, preferably using different approaches, in order to achieve long-term success. What this project undeniably did, however, was raise awareness of the versatility of mobile devices. Student responses from the final class survey suggest that they have become aware of the learning opportunities that their phones and tablets (can) present. This is a first important step towards a paradigm shift that needs to establish mobile devices as creation and learning tools rather than devices aimed squarely at consumption. The biggest changes one could witness during the project were increased risk-taking and creativity as well as more flexibility and spontaneity in and outside the classroom. As far as the teacher was concerned, he took on the role of the facilitator, the guide on the side who is a resource as well as a means to additional resources. He introduces the tools and thus makes new ways of learning (and teaching) possible.
So, should schools adopt mobile learning and should mobile devices be integrated into modern teaching? In my opinion, there is no way mobile technologies will be excluded from learning for much longer. If we are to prepare our students for the future, we need to equip them with the tools and skills they will later use to solve problems in Academia or at work. To which degree schools will adopt mobile learning remains for them to decide, as there might not be a one size fits all solution. Once schools have decided to implement mobile learning, though, they would arguably have to work on four key concepts in order to be successful: provide the necessary infrastructure (e.g. wireless Internet), foster professional development, adapt resources and the curriculum so as to take into account new technologies and finally, provide or allow access to technology. With these in place, the way is paved towards new and exciting ways of learning.