2012 Resolution #2: Specifically Define Mobile in Education

If you don't learn to read and write, how will you ever learn to textWe were recently forwarded an article talking some about the role of mobile technologies within educational environments. And though there are some pieces that I can pick at, there is some sense that I got when reading that article, and similar pieces, that if we are going to make something of an approach towards understanding the role of mobile in educational environments, that there’s got to be some core understandings that we come to before, during, and after the tech has been introduced.

There were nine points raised in the aforementioned article, some of these might hit square on for some of you, but others point towards more indepth understandings of mobile and education which need to be addressed. Here are the nine points:

  1. Expanding university apps and mobile web
  2. Nomadic learning
  3. Augmented reality learning scenarios
  4. Mobile apps for education
  5. Twitter feedback in class
  6. Mobile library access
  7. Mobile phone payments
  8. Mobile marketing
  9. Mobile pop quizzes

Now, let’s take these apart a bit and see where mobile in education settles out.

Concerning #1: there’s definitely an opportunity for colleges and universities (as well as high and middle schools) to take the paradigm of a portal application and have a means to create a education-focused environment on a personal or school-subsidized mobile device. I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a situation where one-type of approach fits all devices/students. For example, it is common in university settings to have non-traditional students who don’t have the dedicated finances for obtaining a school-subsidized device, or might be in a situation where downloading a portal application doesn’t make much sense for a 3-day professional development course. Universities would have to plan how they will expand into mobile by defining personas for mobile educational experiences, not to simply copy what’s happening within consumer/prosumer spaces.

Concerning #2: academia has been even more stubborn than many professional/knowledge-worker environments in respect to distance learning. Not in every case, but to disassociate the school as a temporal meeting place even in the collegic environment has unintended ramifications towards accountability, information and device management, and even tracking progress. I’ll speak specifically towards my teaching with the Upward Bound program (Millersville University, 2002-2004). One of my classes was conducted exclusively on Palm m105 PDAs and had only a meeting place in respect to “be here at this time or you miss where today’s class will be held.” Not only was it a fight to allow that kind of  behavior to happen, I also had to demonstrate contempencies by the students when spatial norms were not bound by them to begin with. Can you say fun?

Concerning #3: augmented reality is good, but like we found in the PDA class, we had even more of a challenge getting students and teachers alike to be acclimated to reality. For example, if you have a PDA/mobile, and you are in a math class, why would you carry a TI calculator? Reality was that we could download the graphing calc app, and save space in one’s pocket/bag. Reality was pushed when we instigated them to find other apps that took advantage of the sensors on the device so that learning could be pushed. Using the IR as a means to capture velocity/time/spatial data, then process thru another app/same app on user’s device, then beam your answer to the teacher? Yup. Reality. Going beyond is possible, and should be normal, but just leading on those skills is much more than many teachers are allowed time for.

Concerning #4: its the same (reword) as #1. So how about we say instead, mobile services for education. We can take that towards learning environments (Blackboard, etc.), or even retrofitting forums and blogs for learning engagements. What services are/aren’t fit for education? What would an ideal service look like? Could it be something like a group scheduling/tasking service that works only in specific classrooms (authenticated WiFi) and a web browser? When we go to that point, what’s possible?

Concerning #5: I’m a fan as much as anyone of feedback, and enjoy when there’s some Twitter chat happening during a talk that I’m doing, and I can go back and reread what’s been said. Responding to that in real-time is nigh impossible and shouldn’t be the aim of such channels. What Twitter-like services can allow though is the freedom of communication about the lesson that might otherwise be forgotten before evaluations are done. Or, we can take a lesson from #educhat and similar to use Twitter to organize a class, with a different pedogy for validating whatever the learning goals are. There’s a lot that can happen here, feedback though is probably the hardest to take from an idealized setting to the norm.

Concerning #6: I liked this point. Throwing in a counterpoint: if the perodicals, journals, and specalized searches are electronic, and one only needs to be authenticated on the network that such materials are validated for, is the (physical) library needed beyond being like a Starbucks (3rd space) for contemplation, discussion, studying, and special sessions? Or, does the depth of those materials that won’t be electronic anytime soon invite mobiles to take on the role of organizing/digitzing those assets are persons are using them. The person is invited to borrow the materials, but must return it along with a digital image of what they cited so that the library can begin analyizing what specifically is being consumed from their non-digital collections, while also partially digitizing content so that later students might only pull on the digital asset (ignoring rights, press, etc. issues for the moment)? Thick in scope, but its been attempted in part.

Concerning #7: If my mobile’s number *and* IMEI (because owning a mobile isn’t inexpensive, going prepaid but constantly changing numbers more often could be normal) could be tied to my student ID so that I could not just get emergency and class alerts, but also use a university-specific shortcode/barcode to pay for items, that would be great. Many colleges/universities offer what’s like a flex/debit account and this could not just be used to pay for items, but also keep a mobile topped off (going back to the time when phone lines were partially subsidized by the student and the school). Could be a nice additional piece of revenue for schools, could also be a neater tie to students once they’ve left campus. Not sure that I’d do this widespread in high school settings, but I do wonder if it would make for a nice credit/debit lesson for seniors.

Concerning #8: I don’t agree that anyone likes to be marketed to. I do think that people would invite marketing messages that add value to their everyday interactions. This is how Blyk works and has been very successful in doing so. If Blyk were school-themed, and that could not just assist students by subsidizing device and service calls, but also inviting them to interact with their schools in such a way that the schools recieve some financial help, that would be good. But, things like SMS blasts, mobile apps with ad banners, and such, no. There should be no room made to make students into billboards no more than consumer markets already do.

Concerning #9: The idea of pop quizzes goes back to #5 in regards to feedback. How about we look at this a bit more discerning towards these questions:

  • what are the goals of the class/lesson
  • what are the top 3 issues preventing the class/lesson from being achieved
  • what/whom are the most readily available resources able to address the issue

If the goal is to find out if lessons have increased knowledge/wisdom/understanding, then we look at the feedback of a test in those streams. Thing is, what’s going to happen with that data? Is the student going to have to wait until the teacher grades it (I hope no, if they are taking an electronic test, then shouldn’t most of the grading be automated as well)? If the teacher has the ability to ping one or more devices for a test randomly, what are any privacy implications (or is all of the teacher/student tech interactions happening through a proxy where the teacher never knows anything more about a device connecting to the class other than its association to a registered student’s name)? And then who’s able to build/maintain these tests? I didn’t mind doing these when I taught, but I’m different. Other teachers were struggling with MS Word and laying out lines on the screen for people to handwrite in answers. Are instructional designers building test templates for their learning content management systems which also take into account a mobile device – because many schools have students to which a mobile is their only best-available computing device?

I share the opinion of the late Judy Breck and others that mobiles can certainly open the minds and hearts of teachers and students alike towards accessible and effective education. I don’t think that its just about apps or even piggy-backing on what might have worked in other times. Each school, each teacher, and each student needs to be addressed on the level of what makes the most sense for all of them. 

Whew… that’s a lot right. So what’s needed:

  • methodologies integrating devices, services, and experiences (3 layers of mobile) around a central goal for education (whether that’s skills retraining, general studies, or something else should be hashed out on the level of the teacher and the instutution) – this will point towards the ways to develop the curriculia
  • cross-functional knowledge by all teachers
  • interdependence on parents, community groups, and local/regional businesses with schools
  • outright running after imagination

Teach in such a way that they will be prepared to take on the world that will exist in their time, not yours. In this case, technology is only relevant when the end result is improved retention rates, graduation rates, and capitalized job opportunities.

  • This is exactly what we do at MAF – Learning Technologies: http://www.maflt.org ; @maflt:twitter 

  • This is exactly what we do at MAF – Learning Technologies: http://www.maflt.org ; @maflt:twitter 

  • Have you guys posted a link to your methodology/methodologies? Something which other groups looking to build out similar educational/learning foundations would be able to take and cater to their needs?

  • Have you guys posted a link to your methodology/methodologies? Something which other groups looking to build out similar educational/learning foundations would be able to take and cater to their needs?