Category Archives: Mobile Technologies
I've just been browing a new report A new report tiled "Technology-Enabled Personalized Learning: Findings and Recommendations to Accelerate Implementation," from the US. The report is based on the recommendations and observations of over 100 educators who gathered last year for the TEPL summit at North Carolina State University's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. It summarises advice and insight on how to use technology to facilitate personalized learning, and seeks to help users work towards goals based around: data, content and curriculum, technology architecture, research and development, and human capacity.
It's always interesting to read this sort of document, particularly as it has been developed through the collaborative activity of practitioners. While there are a number of references to specific technololgies such as student data projection, student ownership of devices and calls for the development of technology standards, it's interesting to not an emphasis also on more professional development as the role of the teacher shifts from presenter of knowledge to facilitator/coach/guide
The link between the pedagogical construct of 'personalised learning' and the role of technology is something that needs much more discourse among educators. There has been a lot of use of the idea of personalising learning as a justification of pursuing 1-1 and BYOD programmes, but too often, it's nothing more than a 'smokescreen' attempting to provide a pedagogical rationale for a technological imperative – and too often also, the learner centred pedagogy turns out to be based purely on the assumption that a personally owned device will provie a more personalised experience of the 'delivery' of content.
The document offers this explanation of personalisation:
Personalized learning is not simply about differentiating the method or approach of instruction or about individualizing the pace of learning. Personalized learning further seeks to empower the learner to shape what, how, and when they learn, thus engaging them through their explicit and implicit choices. Authentic implementation of personalized learning requires fundamental redesign of the school structure and of the role of teachers.
This appeals to me – it suggests more than a personalised delivery experience – and gets more to the point of learner agency. This is a key affordance of technology – empowering and enabling learners to have choices about what and how they learn, and the power to act on those choices in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.
The document also states…
Personalization is necessary for educational equity. Educational equity is not simply about equal access and inputs, but ensuring that a student’s educational path, curriculum, instruction, and schedule be designed to meet her unique needs, inside and outside of school.
With this level of understanding of personalisation we can begin to consider the contribution that technology can make in quite different ways.
The report goes on to identify specific challenge areas and ways in which technology can support and enhance personalised approaches. There are some useful ideas and recommendations, supported by case studies and descriptions in this report – all of which will help prompt further thinking in your own context.
A colleague, Dr Paul Lowe, sent me a link this evening to this intriguing project called "Pocketlab"
Before he left NZ to take a job in Abu Dhabi, Paul was a leading science teacher here in NZ, and I remember well his experiments with using geo-location technology to monitor the downward movement of a parachutist, measring acceleration, velocity, and the size of the arcs through which the parachutist moved as he descended. All of this intrigued me – physics in the real world instead of the traditional trolley on rails in a lab – and measured through the imaginative use of computer-linked sensors etc. Paul was very imaginative in this way and through his work I came to appreciate the incredile potential of sensors in the real world to bring science alive.
So it came as no surprise tonight to receive this link – with the promise of a very simple sensing device that can be used in conjunction with a mobile phone to carry out a range of scientific experiments "in the field". Here's how it's descibed on the website:
PocketLab is a wireless sensor for exploring the world and building science experiments. We built PocketLab for the curious explorers, educators, students, and makers to bring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to life like never before. PocketLab connects with a single button to a smartphone or tablet and instantly streams measurement data that you can see and record. PocketLab measures acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature. Using our cloud software, you can easily analyze your data, create graphs, and integrate your data with other software. PocketLab has the same features as lab equipment that costs thousands of dollars but is low cost and intuitive to use.
The topic of BYOD continues to be a hot topic in schools, with many schools I visit looking at investing in wireless technologies to support students (and staff) bringing their own device to school. While there appears to be agreement that the notion of BYOD is something to be pursued, there isn't a shared understanding of what that might mean in a school context.
For instance, in one school I visited there was a tension between the view of students who wanted to be able to use whatever device they had in their pocket, and the view of teachers who wanted them all to have the same device in order to be able to use them for 'formal' learning activities in class (based on the perception that this will minimise the amount of technical assistance required, or a requirement for a certain level of performance to run installed software etc.)
In trying to resolve this in my own mind, and to make it possible to allow others to see how different philosophical positions may influence the implementation, I've drawn up the simple matrix above (click on it for a larger version).
On the 'y' axis is a continuum based on whether the device is specified or not specified. The 'x' axis is about purpose, ranging from using the device simply as a personal note-taking/research tool linking to cloud applications, to specialised devices capable of handling higher-end, specialised and installed applications.
In each of the four quadrants are descriptions that illustrates the possible scenarios that emerge based on where on each continuum staff and school leadership decide their priorities lie.
For me, it is important that sufficient time and thought is devoted to getting agreement among staff, students and parents about the purpose and intent of any BYOD programme. I'd hope that this matrix may be handy to use in this process.
In addition to the thinking represented in the matrix, the process of decision-making should involve the following:
- Prioritising the provision of a robust, enterprise level wireless network across the school.
- Include in the school network plan appropriate traffic management approaches to cater for the numbers of devices anticipated, policy decisions around filtering, and provision of storage and backup of student data.
- In-depth community engagement to ensure informed decisions are made about the extent of ownership, readiness to participate etc. and to ensure general buy-in.
- A thorough consultation with staff to ensure the devices will be used in conjunction with learning activity, and that this is supported by goals in the school’s Strategic plan, the school’s Curriculum plan and the ICT action plan.
- Professional development opportunities provided for staff.
- Development of a communications plan that outlines the purpose, intent and strategy for all stakeholders.
- Supporting policy and procedures, including updating of the acceptable use policy to reflect individual ownership of devices.
- Consideration of what software will be required for use, or whether the devices will be used primarily for web-based applications (i.e. Google docs) rather than installed applications.
- Consideration be given to the provision of power outlets and places for re-charging if required. (NOTE: as the battery life of most of the portable devices nowadays will last for the duration of a school day, many schools are going with a policy of not making provision for large scale charging of devices, instead making it the student’s responsibility to have their device fully charged before they come to school.)
I'd be interested in feedback from others on how they've addressed this challenge?
A video report from the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin (featured in the NZ Herald today) confirms what we've all suspected – tablet technology is taking over. From the perspective of education, this heralds new challenges and new opportunities for those seeking to integrate ICTs into life at school. Firstly there's the whole issue of shifting thinking from the use of the keyboard to touch as a primary way of interacting with the device. Secondly there's the big issue of 'who owns the device'?, with increasing numbers of schools moving towards a BYOD policy.
Certainly, the combination of (a) tablet-style, portable, internet capable devices, (b) personal ownership of these devices by students, and (c) access via high speek broadband networks is driving a very different paradigm of ubiquitous computer use that we need to be planning for in our schools and tertiary insititutions.
In several school ICT reviews I've completed recently a similar pattern of concern has emerged – that despite the very best efforts of the school and its community to increase access to computers through increasing the numbers of labs, COWS, laptops etc., staff feel they're disadvantaged because they don't always have access to them for their classes when they want/need them.
Solutions such as increasing the number of labs, adding more pods, more COWS, more loan-out laptops etc are all suggested – but the real issue is that we're now facing a situation where nothing less than complete ubiquity will satisfy, and this will require a complete shift in thinking from school-owned, school-managed devices located in school-determined settings – to personally-owned, portable, accessible-on-demand devices that are carried by students wherever they are learning.
The tablet developments illustrated in the video above are just another step in this direction – and we need to be taking notice.
I spent two days last week in a school in South Canterbury, reviewing their ICT strategy and implementation. Unsurprisingly the matter of mobile devices was raised by both staff and students, including questions and concerns about ownership, cost, equity, access, safety etc – all really useful and professional discussions from a group of people genuinely looking to find a way forward in this regard. Their discussion reflects what I find is top of mind in pretty much every school I visit, and highlights the need for some strategic thinking and policy development within schools (and nationally) to address these things.
UNESCO is currently developing a set of policy guidelines for mobile learning, for which it is inviting public review and input. The extracts below are taken from their literature and provide some insight into the purpose and scope of the exercise:
UNESCO believes that mobile technologies can expand and enrich educational opportunities for students in a diversity of contexts. Today, a growing body of evidence suggests that ubiquitous mobile devices – and mobile phones in particular – are being used by students and teachers around the world to access information, streamline administration, and facilitate learning in new and innovative ways. This set of guidelines, drawing on UNESCO’s research, seeks to help policy makers better understand what mobile learning is and how its unique benefits can be leveraged to advance progress toward Education for All. The unprecedented uptake of mobile devices, in particular mobile phones, in both developed and developing countries opens up new possibilities for increasing education access, equity and quality. Mobile learning, a growing field of ICT in education, has the potential to significantly impact the delivery of education. However, an enabling policy environment is needed to fully realise this potential. UNESCO’s research has revealed a dearth of policies related to mobile learning. To address this gap UNESCO, in broad consultation with relevant stakeholders, will develop a set of guidelines to help national government policy makers and educators create environments that enable the safe, affordable and sustainable use of mobile technologies for education.
You can download the DRAFT UNESCO Policy Guidelines on Mobile Learning v2. (PDF 500KB) to read and comment on. The first half of the draft document provides some really useful material for those who are considering the rationale and benefits of mobile learning, while the second half is devoted specifically to policy guidelines. It's worth taking a look at what has been developed so far as it may help some of the thinking and work taking place in NZ schools, placing it in a broader, strategic perspective.
I've also posted reference to this on the VLN – BYOD group, as a means of sharing it around the NZ education community.
The event was extremely well attended, as were similar events in Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch, which illustrates the amount of interest there is in this topic. Gliksman spent some time establishing the context for considering BYOD (perhaps could have glossed over this bit more quickly as most of the crowd would have heard this already) before moving on to make a case for the educational benefits of using mobile technologies in classrooms, including those owned by the students themselves. He covered off issues like control, filtering, security, wireless access and the digital divide, providing useful illustrations of what can/might be done in a school context.
Overall I found it a useful event – particularly for the amount of conversation it stimulated among those present. A disappointment was probably that while Glikman made an excellent case for mobile devices in the classroom, I felt he missed an opportunity to explore more explicitly the pedagogical advantages of student-owned (BYOD) devices over class sets that are owned by the school (apart from the economic argument which was referred to).
Thanks to TorqueIP for putting these seminars on through the country.
My last day of camping at the beach for my summer break was interrupted by a phone call from Andrew Patterson at Radio Live wanting to interview me regarding an article in the New York Times titled Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. (unfortunately their 7-day Catch-up feature isn't working so a recording of the interview doesn't seem to be available.) The interview helped 'lurch' me out of holiday mode and begin thinking about some of the issues that are bound to face me as I return to work in the new year.
The NYT article reports on the overwhelming decision of the state legislature to pass a law requiring all high school students to take some online classes to graduate. To enable this to happen, students and their teachers were to be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.
Naturally, such a decision will face criticism and resistance from some and be greeted enthusiastically by others, with all shades of response between – partcularly because of the compulsory nature of the decision. It seems that it's much more acceptable if such initiatives have some degree of 'buy-in' (or 'opt-out?') rather than making it compulsory. In this case (as in others around the world) the Idaho state legislature appears to have been persuaded by the argument that this isn't something that they can afford to leave to chance, and that providing all of their students with some experience of online learning should be an essential part of their schooling experince.
In my interview with Andrew he asked me whether I thought this sort of thing is a sign of things to come – including here in NZ. I answered with an emphatic 'not only is this a sign of things to come, it's really another illustration of a trend that's been building up over the past decade or so'.
He asked about what evidence we have of the benefits or impact of ICTs on learning, and I referenced BECTA's research on the impact of digital technologies on learning. He quizzed me about Orewa College requiring students to bring iPads to school in 2012 and I explained that Orewa is just one of a growing number of schools that are making the decision to require laptops for students through adopting a BYOD approach. In regards to the introduction of online learning, I explained that the time for virtual learning has indeed arrived, and explained the growth of activity in the Virtual Learning Network in NZ over the past decade.
Returning to the NYT article, however, the title of it reflects a bias in the perspective it represents; Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. this resistance is qualified further into the article:
"Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved…" and "Teachers are resisting, saying that they prefer to employ technology as it suits their own teaching methods and styles. Some feel they are judged on how much they make use of technology, regardless of whether it improves learning."
Now I completely agree with the need for proper training, and the need to demonstrate the value in any new initiative, but I can't help feel this article exposes some of the 'avoidance' thinking I see creeping into some of the discourse in this area, and the naivity of some of the claims being made. Take for instance the main argument attributed to teacher Ms Rosenbaum who claims that rather than use technology she'd prefer to engage students with questions – the Socratic method. Those who've been around the education traps for a while will understand the Socratic method is a form of guided questioning, of teaching by asking rather than telling. It's not about face-to-face or online – it's about a pedagogical approach that could be used in both circumstances.
There's no inherent face-to-face requirement for the Socratic method – the success of this approach lies in the careful design of the questions and how the answers are responded to, rather than the physical arrangement of the teacher and learner(s). I first came across reference to the Socratic method in my early studies in distance education, when my lecturers referred to the adoption of the principles of the Socratic method in approaches to instructional design for correspondence materials, and later, online discussion forums.
In The January 2009 issue of The Journal of Educators Online, Bridget Arend from University of Denver wrote a paper titled Encouraging Critical Thinking in Online Threaded Discussions (PDF) in which she explored how asynchronous discussions within online courses influence critical thinking among students. In it she notes…
"The success of the technique seen in this study is consistent with the literature on inquiry methods of teaching, commonly known as the Socratic method, which is often suggested for online discussions (Bender, 2003; Garrison & Anderson, 2003)." (Page18)
Jan tucker and Patricia Neely in the June 2010 issue of the International Journal of Technology and Distance Learning titled Using Web Conferencing and the Socratic Method to Facilitate Distance Learning in which they describe the success of using synchronous online technologies to facilitate/enable the sort of question-based teaching and learning based on the Socratic method.
Seems to me that the main argument here is simply a bad personal experience with online learning, which is now being dressed up with 'edu-speak' to thinly disguise a personal preference;
"[Ms Rosenbaum] said she was mystified by the requirement that students take online courses. She is taking some classes online as she works toward her master’s degree, and said they left her uninspired and less informed than in-person classes. Ms. Rosenbaum said she could not fathom how students would have the discipline to sit in front of their computers and follow along when she had to work each minute to keep them engaged in person."
My own daughters would argue the following based on their experience of face-to-face secondary schooling and university work (in some of their classes):
"We are mystified by the requirement that students take face-to-face classes… we cannot fathom how students have the discipline to sit in front of their desks and follow along when they have to work each minute to keep themselves engaged."
The increased focus on BYOD in schools has certainly generated a lot of discussion and debate in recent months. The idea of student-owned devices being brought to school as a matter of course is no longer the perogative of the exclusive private schools, with an increasing number of schools I deal with in NZ now considering or embarking on schemes to accommodate students being able to bring their personal, internet-capable computing devices to school to be used for learning.
At the recent ULearn conference in Rotorua I conducted a workshop and panel discussion on this topic – it was one of the most well-subscribed workshops of the conference, despite being in the 'graveyard' slot on the final day, an indication of the interest that lies here.
The panel included reps from five schools in NZ where I consider they're doing a great job of implementing a BYOD policy. Each of the teachers explained in summary what they're doing and why, and then were available to answer questions from the floor.
Of course, allowing students to bring their own devices to school is the easy part – in fact, many of them already do, in the form of their mobile phone(s) and MP3 players etc. Among the issues that were explored in the ULearn workshop were:
- what is the overall rationale for allowing students to use their own device in school?
- what sort of wireless connectivity is required?
- how do you configure the wireless network to manage traffic from hundreds of devices?
- what policies are required and how do you manage/enforce these?
- how do you manage cyber safety? copyright? filtering?
- should you insist on all students using the same device and applications to ensure they can be used purposefully in the classroom?
- who is responsible for maintenance and when things go wrong?
There's more than a blog post that could be written on each of these issues, so we've set up a BYOD in schools group in the VLN for these discussions to continue. There's also a bit of discussion generated over on the MLE list on this as well.
The Victorian Department of Education's new "iPads for education" website (llustrated above) is for educators who want to learn about using iPads in education, and illustrates the significance our cousins across the ditch place on the emerging trend here. The Victorian DoE are working with Apple to test the value of the iPad, and the applications it can access, as an additional opportunity to engage students and to improve their educational attainment.
While I'm sure there'll be ongoing debates over whether they should be using iPads or netbooks, or full-sized laptops or desktops etc., it will certainly be interesting to see what sort of results emerge from this study – the case studies on the site provide a useful insight into the ways they are using these devices already.
The point is that the demand from students to be able to bring their own device to school and connect to the school network for learning is already being estblished. On top of that there is the fact that many of these new devices come with features and interfaces that we need to explore with our students in order to understand exactly how they might impact on learning and learner behaviour, and not be stifled by our existing prejudices and patterns of use.
Come and join the discussion in the BYOD in Schools group on the VLN to carry this conversation further.
My work has taken me into a number of schools over the past few weeks where a common thread of the conversation in each has revolved around the issue of laptops for students and student access to the online environment. Having taken almost a decade to achieve the goal of seeing all of our teachers provided with a laptop as a per of their basic toolkit for doing their job, it seems schools are now facing up to the fact that we need to be doing the same for students. In the past few weeks our news media has been riddled with stories about schools that are making bold moves in this direction, some involving allowing students to bring their own devices to school, and other involving large scale purchase and deployment:
- Burnside High School in Christchurch is encouraging its senior pupils to bring their own computers to school, but has no plans to make the devices compulsory.Burnside High School is encouraging its senior pupils to bring their own computers to school, but has no plans to make the devices compulsory.
- Point England School in Auckland has embarked on a student netbook programme combined with a roll-out of wireless access to homes.
- At Kaitao Intermediate School in Rotorua they've also announced a programme to provide tablets to every student at minimal cost to parents.
- Brand new school, Albany Senior High School, started the way they planned to go on, with a "high trust" approach to technology use in the school, with all students able to bring their own device.
- Orewa College hit the headlines with its plan to require students to purchase a 1-1 computing device for their work at school, with a recommendation that it be an iPad2
- Perhaps the most ambitious is NZ's largest secondary school, Rangitoto College, which will welcome student devices into the school from next year, providing free access to the internet.
The examples above can be matched by others, I'm sure, that haven't made the headlines in this way. The big question is WHY? What is driving these decisions to be made? Some of the reasons become apparent in an examination of the stories:
- Equity – providing students with devices is a way of countering the perceived gaps between the 'haves' and 'have nots' (digital divide)
- Cost – BYOD programmes minimise cost (and risk) for schools, who can then divert money into building a robust network to support them
- Competition – a fear of 'being lft behind', or of facing competition from other schools
- Curriculum – enabling 21st century learning to take place, recognising that digital literacy and competence will be required across the board
- Choice – a response to the increasing diversity of devices available, and to students wanting to use the device of their choosing
Earlier this year the ReadWriteWeb reflected on the findings of the Speak Up 2010 survey in an article titled "What do kids say is the biggest obstacle to technology at school?" RWW commented that the results of the survey are pretty fascinating, as they show great adoption of technology among even very young students, but lingering resistance on the part of school administrators to sanction some of those tools into the classroom.
The two major obstacles that students say they face at school:
- filters that stop them from accessing the websites they need for homework, and
- bans on using their own mobile devices at school.
In other words, what students say they want at school is the ability to bring their own device, and to have unfiltered access to the internet – and they believe that their learning is being impeded without that.
In the midst of all of this we've seen a call for laptops for NZ students coming from the New Zealand Institute, who warn that the ultra fast broadband (UFB) rollout will be pointless for schools if there is no Government strategy to make it available to students. This is something we're seeing 'across the ditch' in Australia for instance, where every senior NSW public school student will get to keep a mini laptop funded by the government. In a television interview, the NZ Institute's Rick Boven argues "you can't really leave it to the schools, e-learning is quite complicated", and that funding for hardware in schools is necessary in order not to leave the poor behind.
Rick Boven is quite right – e-learning is quite complicated, but not, perhaps, in the way he imagines. His perception (at least based on the solution he's advocating) is that the compexity is to do with the technology (not the learning) – and in that respect I fully concur, we can't leave it to schools to sort out because it is very complex and requires experience at the 'enterprise' level which extends well beyond the locus of control of the local school.
From a learning perspective, it's very much the domain of the school, and shouldn't be dictated to by those pushing a particular technological solution.
From the experience from the 1-1 programmes in the US, for example, we know that putting a mobile computing device in the hands of every student and teacher isn’t just a matter of buying the machines. Such initiatives need to be driven by a well thought through vision. Leaders need to be prepared for the long-haul, and not give at the sight of any small problem or setback – building and sustaining a successful 1-1 programme does not happen overnight. – and includes attention to detail including the provision of support and policies & procedures.
It's great to see the direction so many schools are beginning to take in NZ, and I hope there does emerge a high level of strategic direction and support from our national leaders to enable this to continue. But amid all the hype and publicity, let's be sure that it is the thinking of educators that is ultimately driving the decisions, with arguments based on the potential of personally-owned devices to improve access to online curricula, collaboration on school projects, and communication between teachers and students – and to ultimately change the way in which learning occurs, and the nature of the role of teachers etc.
My colleague Malcolm Moss in the UK sent me a link last week to an article in the MailOnline with the headline shown above – "School orders parents…" Interesting to note the emotive language and how polarizing the issue of students being asked to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school can be. The article quotes UK Education 'expert' Sue Palmer as saying, "
The school is shamefully giving parents the impression that buying an expensive iPad is in their child’s long term interest… in reality parents are being asked to invest a small fortune in something that is little more than a toy and hugely associated with the viewing of porn.
Some emotive language and assertions here to be sure. "giving the impression…?" Is the implication here that it's all an illusion, and that there may not be any educational value at all in this move? And as for 'small fortune' – the average price of a mobile device isn't much different from a DVD player, XBox or Playstation – and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that ownership of these devices is very high in homes across all income groups.
Mind you, the reasons for the deployment aren't that convincing. Valerie Thompson, chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation concludes her comments in the Dartford Messenger by saying, "iPads will not replace paper, pens, whiteboards and presentations. They will be another tool in the box." Surely there has to be a more compelling reason for implementing the scheme than that?
Back home in NZ this week there have been similar comments being posted with the announcement that Orewa College is telling parents all Year 9 students will need "one-to-one computing devices" next year. The decision here has been labelled 'divisive' by Labour education spokeswoman Sue Moroney who argues we'll end up with a two-tier education system as a result. At the heart of the issue is a concern over 'who pays' – the fact that students may require access to such devices (and why) seems to be less emphasised in the news coverage – perhaps because it's election year? Certainly, there doesn't appear to be much support from the readers comments posted in the Stuff website.
Background to all this is an article I read this week by Wayan Vota on the Education Debate website, titled Tablets are Good, Content is Better, and Teachers are the Best Educational ICT Investment. In it Wayan explores the value of tablet computers in education, specifically in the context of the developing world. This is a part of the presentation he made to the recent Slide2learn conference in Queensland, Australia (see video at the end of this post).
Wayan argues that while there is education value in the use of tablet computers, there is greater value in making available high quality content, and even greater value in investing in teacher professional development. He argues:
What isn’t growing, what is lacking are the skilled teachers that can take a digital device – any digital tool – and incorporate it into the classroom, into student-centric learning.
Now this is a line of argument that resonates well with me. I've long been an advocate for the importance of adequate teacher professional learning and development, and so agree with the logic of Wayan's argument.
However, I don't feel he goes far enough along the value chain. For the real value of things like tablet computers to be realised, we need to plan for and strategically bring about a transformation at a system level. To fail to do so will simply see new tools, providing new content, by newly inspired teachers in old settings, following old ways of doing things including old pedagogies and old assessment practices (sound familiar?).
The more I analyse and reflect on the arguments against (expensive toys) as well as for (just another tool) I can't help but feel we're caught up in the old world thinking here. We need new leaders who are visonary and risk takers – like the Russell Burts and Kate Shevlands of this world, each of whom worked with their communities and sought their 'buy-in' for the initiatives they pursued, and have sought to fundamentally change the way teaching and learning occurs in their schools as a result. I'
I'm sure this debate will rage for a while yet – but the floodgates are open, and we need some system level leadership to help chart the course.