FETC 2013 | Feature

Mobile That Works

In order for mobile technologies to be effective in the classroom, teachers and administrators will need to let go of the reins and let students take the lead, according to University of Michigan professor and researcher Elliot Soloway.

"Kids are the experts on the technology," Soloway says. "Teachers are the experts not on the content but on the pedagogy and classroom management. The two have to live together. They have to learn together."

Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, College of Engineering, and School of Information, is one of the founders of Ann Arbor, MI-based GoKnow, a provider of educational software. He and GoKnow co-founder Cathie Norris, a Regents professor in the College of Education at the University of North Texas, have been studying education technology trends for more than two decades. The pair spoke recently with T.H.E. Journal about how mobile technologies can support true 21st century learning.

Mobile Learning: Helpful or Hype?

Mobile learning is not hype, Soloway and Norris assert emphatically, citing experience from their research in Singapore for the WeLearn Project. WeLearn gave Nokia Lumia 710 phones, running Windows, to a class of third graders at Nan Chiau primary school in Sengkang New Town, located in the northeastern region of the country. The goal of the project is to foster 21st century skills in these students by moving them from the traditional teacher-centric learning model to a student-centric approach that encourages collaboration and project-based learning.

Based on "Master Plan 3," a directive from the Ministry of Education, it’s a mission that the country takes very seriously. Singapore has the highest test scores in the world, according to Soloway. "They won’t muck with their test scores, with what they’re doing, unless they see that something can make them better." He adds, "They realize that the drill and practice [approach] is not going to develop 21st century skills of self-directed, collaborative learning."

The students adapted easily to the new devices, which came pre-loaded with a mobile learning platform and a number of educational applications developed by the University of Michigan. When the researchers reviewed their data at the end of the first year, they found a boost in test scores in the pilot class. "Test scores actually went up and the children learned 21st century skills," says Soloway.

In the second year of the project, test scores remained level with the previous year, which Soloway says "is just fine," pointing out that the students are learning key skills like "problem-solving, debugging, conversation, critical thinking, self-directed learning, collaborative learning, team work. "[These] are the soft skills people have decided kids need," he says, adding that students are also gaining hard skills like critical analysis. "We’re seeing it. It’s working."

But in order to see results like those in Singapore, a cultural change must take place in the classroom, points out Norris. It’s not enough just to introduce technology into the learning environment and expect results, she says; you must change everything, from devices to curriculum to pedagogy.

"You must give them curricula with the technology activities baked in," she asserts, "so students don't have to keep going back and forth from their paper and pencil textbooks to their technology activities."

FETC presenters Norris and Soloway

Norris, a Regents Professor in the College of Education at the University of North Texas, and Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan, are researchers and frequent speakers at education technology conferences. The pair will lead three sessions at FETC 2013, which starts Jan. 28, 2013 in Orlando, FL.

Don't Settle for Using Just a Few Apps On Your Shiny New iPad!

To move the needle of student achievement upwards, and move beyond just increased student engagement, mobile devices need to be used as an essential tool for learning, not just as a supplemental tool. But, where does the curriculum, instructional, and assessment strategies come from to exploit 15-20 apps, 50-75 percent school day use, and after school use? Textbook publishers are absent. We will describe how schools form teams to support their teachers in moving to 1-to-1, essential, mobile learning.

WeMap and WeKWL: Collaborative Learning on Mobile Devices

Students can use tablets to collaboratively construct and revise concept maps and KWL charts! Bring your iPad and Android device. We provide free apps and sample curriculum .

Classroom-in-a-Box: Using Android Tablets for Learning

The $100 computer is a 7-inch Android tablet. Put 30 in a box; load tablets with mobile learning software and curriculum; include PLN teacher enrollment and instant mobile learning begins! Experience the Classroom-in-a-Box. The Mobile Learning Center is offering the tablet software, the curriculum, and the PLN free of charge.

For more information, visit the complete list of FETC workshops.

Doing Beats Learning

To make mobile learning work, teachers should give kids things to do, the research partners recommend.

"John Dewey said, ‘Give pupils something to do, not something to learn,’" says Soloway, "’because in the doing comes the learning.’" Unless students are engaged in activity, he cautions, they will "do stuff they shouldn’t. It’s human nature."

Norris agrees. "That’s why mobile learning tends to fail in schools," she says. "They’re letting kids bring devices to school but then they’re continuing to do didactic teaching, which means children sit and listen to [the teacher]—as opposed to [the teacher] giving them something to do with the device."

Norris recommends teachers give students problems to solve—individually and collectively—using the device. In Akron, OH, for instance, sixth graders at a special needs school are using iPads to study Greek mythology. After hearing or reading a story, the students use an application called SketchyPad to illustrate what happened in the story. The activity, which takes most of the class time to complete, keeps these students, who are otherwise prone to distraction and boredom, engaged and involved in the lesson, says Norris.

And when this happens, she notes, "students come to learn those things that teachers otherwise would have told them."

Devices in the Background

According to Soloway, students should be able to work on, complete, and turn in assignments, "regardless of the device they’re using," says Soloway. The technology should exist in the background; it should not divide the student’s focus. To achieve this in a BYOD environment, he asserts, learning activities should be conducive to myriad devices.

Teachers should also be able to easily access and grade the work students complete on their devices, Soloway notes, mentioning a project in which students worked on lessons using Palm Pilots pre-loaded with educational software, and then turned the devices in to their teacher for grading. What they found, however, is that teachers weren’t grading the assignments done on the devices.

"It was hard for the teachers to access the work on those devices," he explains. As a consequence, "teachers would then rely on tests, as opposed to the work that the children did on the devices."

What they learned from this experiment, Soloway notes, is that in a K-12 classroom, technology—including BYOD initiatives—must make the teacher’s job easier. "Making it easy for the teacher to do something is everything," he insists.

Will Small-Screen Tablets Work in Class?

While adults are accustomed to large displays that let them use multiple windows and tabs, Soloway says that kids don’t see the small screens on devices such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Apple’s iPad Mini "as a limitation. They see a small screen as what they have, and they’ll deal with it."

Norris agrees. "These are the children that grew up with the Game Boy, with the 2x2-inch screen," she says. This generation is comfortable with the smallness of the displays on their devices, she notes, referencing the Palm Pilot experiment. "The children thought [the Palm Pilot] was the big screen because, compared to their 2x2-inch Game Boy screen, it was. And when you look at the Samsung [Galaxy] Note or the Samsung Galaxy [S] III with the screen as big as the whole iPhone, it’s a very nice experience."

Whereas adults need large displays with multiple windows to move between tasks, students are already comfortable switching back and forth between applications quickly. "It’s their technology," he says, "so the switching is something they’re comfortable with. We as adults aren’t as comfortable because we’ve had so much practice with the big screens. They’ve had so much practice with the small screens."

Plus, Norris notes, more and more mobile applications today include features that allow users to access information without having to leave the application. E-readers, for instance, "have dictionaries and resources built in so [users] don’t even have to exit," she says.

This notion of switching back and forth between applications instead of using multiple windows, Soloway says, is intuitive to the digital learner, and new mobile devices—namely those running Android and Windows 8—are being developed with this in mind. "Technology’s already figuring a way to cope with it," he explains. "The only one that doesn’t do it is iOS, but down the road, of course, it will."