Mobile technology is all around us. Our homes, workplaces and social life all seem to be cluttered with digital devices. Connectivity to the internet is, after all, an established human right. The world of education and mobile technology is not ‘alien’ and, with increasing fervour, the ‘rise of the machine’ has fast become a domineering daily occurrence.
Quick searching ‘mobile devices in education’ into Google will bring you to a world of countless articles about devices in schools.
Reading them all would require perseverance to say the least, but most of the benefits highlighted across many sites focus on key terms such as ‘flexibility’ of the device and learning, ‘cheaper’, ‘portable’, ‘collaborative’, ‘21st century skills’, ‘engaged learners’, ‘challenge based learning’, ‘1‑to-1’ – the list goes on and on.
As you read, it becomes very apparent that both students and teachers see the benefits of mobile devices not only in the classroom itself but at home, where the learning can be extended or supplemented while communication and understanding can be enhanced with media-rich, up-to-date resources providing the students with relative and engaging educational stimulus.
Going mobile Tablets, such as iPad, and other mobile devices have allowed the traditional computer room scenarios to fade away. Booking timetables for rooms filled with desktop PCs, failed or forgotten logins, lost or broken keyboards or mice can all be placed to one side with instant access being king. This ‘marginal gain’ of giving the teacher - and student - the precious commodity of time means that learning and teaching can happen at the precise moment it should.
Creativity and not simple consumption can then become a reality and mobile devices, with their built-in cameras, microphones, presentations tools and word-processing capabilities to name the basics, can allow this to happen where-ever and when-ever the student needs it too. The quality of work and its personalisation by the student become dominant but not exclusive benefits, not only for the purposes of assessment by the teacher, but the life-long learning journey our students will embark on.
Enhancing Learning C.S. Lewis said: “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” Allowing students to ‘fail’ or make mistakes is not a new educational concept. Teaching them to pick themselves up, try again and to see that failure is temporary is honourable but with traditional assessment methods (pens and ticks) the onus is always on the teacher to dedicate increasing amounts of time to marking, feedback and reporting.
The seemingly ever expanding teacher workload outside teaching time does see each of the aforementioned tasks becoming difficult in terms of effective turn-around for pupil growth and serves to develop the culture of ‘task performance’ rather than a personal learning journey. One of technology’s greatest gifts to education lies in fast, instant assessment which benefits not only the teacher but the student themselves.
Apps and web-tools for rapid quizzes with instant feedback being given to the students and results being emailed to the teacher are simply invaluable, for both student and teacher. Learning using these apps can be viewed and measured as it happens, allowing teachers to intervene at a much earlier stage in the process. Added to this is the fact that pieces of work can be submitted, collated, marked and returned without having to print out a single piece of paper. Working all within one app simplifies the day-to-day workflow of the classroom.
As mentioned beforehand, visualisation of learning has become almost second nature in some schools across the country. With access to these powerful mobile devices, students can now easily create ‘screencasts’ of their work and showcase the process of their learning, not only to the teacher but also their peers. This level or indeed type of communication was once only possible in one-to-one mentoring settings but now, using devices such as an iPad combined with cloud services, this style of pedagogy can be realised for all pupils.
The possibilities are endless Other benefits and enhancements in learning styles using tablet devices can also be found in lesson outcomes, differentiation and personalisation of learning. The ability for a pupil to produce a piece of work as a video, song, podcast, mind map, storyboard, website, screencast, animation, 3D world etc. from a single device, share that with their peers, teacher or indeed the world instantly and all from the comfort of their normal classroom is simply mind-blowing.
This concept of different learning styles existing within the classroom is not unique, but its limitless, connected possibilities reach far beyond the classroom of even five years ago and redefines the concepts of personalised learning, placing this task at the hands of both the pupil and the teacher. This flexible learning is, of course, at the heart of special educational needs.
Children with Autism who struggle to communicate both verbally and non-verbally can find multitudes of apps to assist them from animation and pictures to sounds and video. Children with Aspergers who struggle to organise themselves can find apps to do the task for them or indeed fuel their particular subject passion. Children with Dyslexia can now have web-browsing apps with special fonts designed specially to help the condition. For a teacher, this technology allows them to teach and students to learn.
How to start? Contrary to popular believe, getting started using mobile devices in the classroom is not straight forward and goes far beyond the purchase itself. Recent and very prominent failures in mobile device deployment in the US came about from a lack of vision and planning by the learning authority as to the purpose of the programme and, more importantly, a complete lack of sustained, regular staff training focused on meaningful curricular outcomes. Without these two critical elements, this, or any deployment, will fail.
A robust, reliable WiFi network is also a key pillar to success. This infrastructure is the very backbone of any deployment and all ongoing achievement. If teachers or students cannot collaborate, share or indeed research without technological barriers, frustrations will develop into disillusionment and possible abandonment.
It goes without saying that policies concerning e-safety and acceptable use should also be in place. Even for staff only devices, e-safety should never be underestimated or undervalued. This need, of course, becomes heightened in a school with a 1:1 deployment with pupils where regular, recognised and flexible e-safety policies should be owned by all key stakeholders in the school community, from pupils right through to parents.
Perhaps an often unwritten aspect of getting started with mobile devices in the classroom comes from knowing what is good but seeking support when needed. Boldness in decisions to engage with mobile devices from the leadership in the school is critical but it is very rare to find all of the answers to all of the questions internally.
To ‘know what you don’t know’ is one thing – knowing where and how-to to get there is another. Budget and device considerations are heady issues but many have undertaken the journey already. Do your research and then ask for professional help. Be aware – progress is rarely as fast as most would desire so management and teachers need to measure their expectations and set realistic goals.
You may already be on a journey towards a device deployment and progress has stalled or, worse still, halted? Take some comfort from CS Lewis who said: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” Help can always be found.
Andrew Blacoe is Head of Education at iTeach, a teacher-for-teacher company who deployed more iPads in education than any other organisation in the UK or Ireland. Working with over 750 schools and 1000s of teachers in Northern Ireland alone, across all education sectors from Nursery to Tertiary level, iTeach also work in schools in Scotland and England, training many thousands of teachers every year, supporting them with their own local tech teams. Andrew, a former teacher with 17 years of experience in the classroom, is also an Apple Education trainer and a 360 Degree Safe Assessor.