I have been working in Higher Education for twelve or thirteen years now. I can remember using a VCR to record videoconferencing sessions, and now we have SaaS technologies for remote learners around the globe. I remember the click wheel on the iPod. I also remember when the idea of mobile learning on some campuses was providing a podcast of lectures in iTunes. Recently I have been struggling with K12 mobile initiatives; mainly because it directly affects my family. Let me preface my writing with some warnings:
- I have two children. One of my children is in first grade and I have engulfed him in mobile technologies in our house since he was about 18 months old (with limitations). My second child is a bit older than 3 and has had relatively little exposure to mobile devices.
- My wife is an elementary educator. She teaches Special Education and was first in the classroom in the Fall of 2007. She stayed home for a few years, but she is now wrapping up her 5th year teaching. Because of her, I have "seen" mobile devices in the classroom, out of the classroom, and district wide "initiatives".
Because my wife is an educator, she was very concerned about exposing my oldest son to "screen time" when he was so young. By the age of 2, he was navigating an iPad like a pro. I was amazed at his brain and how he was able to handle these "tasks". He would start in one app, play a little, go to another and sing a song, cycle through some more, and then complete the circle by coming to the app with the song and continue singing where the song left off. I was amazed. Granted, there's always the chance I scarred him (if there are any early childhood experts here, please let me know!), but I wanted that exposure for him. We were fortunate that I had A LOT of mobile devices for testing purposes at a previous job, so we might as well use them, right?
Now with my second son - he has had considerably less interaction with mobile devices. He turned three in December, and he probably played on an iPad or iPhone for the first time in the past 3-4 months. His frustration with the device is noticeable. He gets confused about where to tap, doesn't understand the purpose of the games/educational learning activities, and eventually just switches to the next app.
Why does the difference between my two boys matter?
I truly believe it is imperative for any educational institution, both Higher Ed and K12, to have a strong, top down, mobile learning initiative in place. However, sometimes when just technical people or district level trainers are involved, pedagogy or learning outcomes are solely missed (I'm guilty as well).
Take my two children - they come from the same house, have access to mobile devices (as long as we allow them!) and both Windows and macOS machines - yet I would only label one of them as "technically proficient" (and yes, I know one of my children is 3). The district my wife works for and my oldest attends recently had a large iPad roll out, and my son has said "I watch YouTube and play games on them..." I know my son can navigate the iPad just fine, but what about his peers? I know the demographics of his school, and there is a possibility that some children do not have regular access to devices. Are we giving our students an iPad just to say the device is in the classroom? Or are we giving a true exposure with measurable learning outcomes?
What about training for classroom teachers? How do you train teachers to work with students who may not understand the functionality? What about helping your teachers on how the device can impact learning and not just help them in their job? Parent and spouse aside - as a tax payer in the district, I want to ensure I didn't just help pay for a pretty little paperweight. My wife went through 8 hours of iPad training when the massive roll out happened; it was worthless. Teachers were taught how to take a selfie. Then they were taught to take a video and upload it to YouTube. Those two things took one day (two hours).
What is the answer?
I have no idea! Every district and college has a different make up. But - ensure your classroom teachers are properly trained on how mobile devices will benefit teaching and learning. Ultimately, ask yourself, "What is the value add for the student?" We have all seen the highly publicized district iPad roll outs in the last few years. How many of them had a measurable success for the students?