By 2016, 85 percent of all broadband service will be mobile instead of fixed broadband. Last year, there were more smart phones (472 million) than PCs (353 million). These were just some of the eye-opening statistics that kicked off the Wireless Reach Initiative in Washington, D.C., last week.
The Wireless Reach Initiative—produced by the Wireless Education Technology Conference and Qualcomm Inc.—is in its third year. The conference featured an international roster of some 40 speakers and hundreds of attendees.
“According to Wireless Intelligence, mobile subscriptions are set to surpass the world population in 2014,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of global market development for Qualcomm, “and with increased anytime, anywhere access, mobile is empowering new types of learning, teaching, and assessment.”
Johnson said most parents are on board with their children’s use of mobile learning in the classroom, with 70 percent of parents saying they’d want their kids to learn with mobile devices. (However, more than half of these parents said they support mobile learning as long as students are at least 13 years old, according to Wireless Intelligence, the industry data source that released these figures.)
Yet, even as the world becomes more connected, many schools still don’t have adequate policies or infrastructure in place to support mobile devices—a problem that was addressed during the day’s first conversation on “Policies that Enable Mobile Learning.”
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“We have local AUPs [acceptable use policies] with students registering their devices themselves if they want to use them,” said Maribeth Luftglass, chief information officer for the Fairfax County Public Schools’ Department of Information Technology. “Teachers decide what they’ll allow in their classrooms and what they won’t. We also made sure parents were OK with this policy.”
Luftglass said she’d like to see more policy decisions made at the local level, because this offers more flexibility and efficacy. For example, she described a common problem with using digital content:
“Most digital texts are Flash-based, but Flash isn’t supported on the iPad. Now, our kids found a workaround through Puffin, but the software slips through our firewalls, meaning the schools have to say ‘no’ for security compliance reasons. By having more local control, we can work around problems like these.”
John Miller, assistant director of the Office of Instructional Technology for the West Virginia Department of Education, said the biggest issue when dealing with mobile learning implementation is with student behavior and personalized learning goals.
“We put our focus on behavior as critical, and revised student behavior when dealing with mobile technology at the same time we revised our AUP,” said Miller. “We brought in all the districts as we revised, and, sure, there were still a couple that thought we should ban mobile tech, but the majority thought that the devices could expand learning.”
Miller explained that these types of meetings can help guide policy making at the local level, which is the state’s main function.
“From this AUP revision and other meetings, our state now has multiple one-to-one projects—some BYOD and some district-owned—and we made sure to focus on allowing all devices on the network, but also remaining CIPA compliant for student safety,” he said.
It’s important to allow districts to set their own policies, said Miller, with state policy used as a model.
Jon Bernstein, founder and president of the Bernstein Strategy Group, a lobbying and strategic services firm, said the eRate remains one of the keys to enabling mobile learning in the classroom.
“eRate provides the infrastructure, or the plumbing, for all mobile learning … but it’s running out of cash fast. We really need more money under the cap, which hasn’t changed in 14 years—or before the substantial boom of the wireless industry. We need a call to action,” he said.
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Bernstein also said the only way schools would meet the goal of having online assessments by 2014 would be to close all of the multiple digital divides (hardware, bandwidth, professional development, and so on)—and not just keep buying devices and hope for the best.
From a federal perspective, Richard Culatta, deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, said the federal government’s role is to help bring mobile learning initiatives to scale.
“Feds can help this mobile drive by looking at what strategies work and devising a way to drive these down. For example, as part of the Race to the Top initiative, we needed digital tools to help measure the effectiveness of some reform efforts. We … gathered together a number of companies to help develop these tools, and now everyone—not just those [states and schools that are] part of RTTT—can have access to these tools,” he said.
What’s here now
Moving on from broad policy recommendations, a panel discussion on “Planning for the Future of Mobile Learning” highlighted some resources that can help with mobile learning.
Daniel Torres Mancera, director general of CSEV (the Center for Higher Virtual Education), discussed the center’s mission to promote virtual learning. CSEV is in the process of developing massive open online courses, or MOOCs, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The center also has created a platform for app developers, as well as an Open Educational Resources platform.
Bob Hirshon, program director for the Education Directorate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), discussed AAAS’ and kajeet’s Active Explorer, funded by Wireless Reach.
Active Explorer is a web-based learning platform that uses smart phones and mobile broadband connectivity, provided by kajeet, to engage children in collecting, interpreting, and sharing science-related data, increase interest in science, and give students 21st-century skills in the process. Teachers and students in grades four and seven at four Washington, D.C.-area schools are integrating Active Explorer into their classrooms and after-school programs as part of an extensive evaluation of whether technology can affect learning and motivation.
“Students participating in these explorations … are building knowledge independently, rather than acquiring it solely from a book or exercise,” said Hirshon. “Just as important, they then access the data they collected, interpret [these data], and choose from a palette of creative tools to share their discoveries with others. This multi-tiered active learning encompasses a wide range of critical 21st-century skills.”
To put that concept to the test, an evaluation of the Active Explorer program is under way, with eight teachers and 120 students at four Washington, D.C., schools using Android -powered HTC Evo 4G smart phones that use kajeet’s Sentinel platform to manage internet access and allow students to share data and collaborate on projects.
The application guides educators (Leaders) through the creation of exploration assignments (Quests), which are shared with students (Explorers) through their smart phones.
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For example, a teacher could ask students to conduct a survey of an invasive plant and get the students started by providing an information page and photo. Using their smart phones, the students would hunt for the plants within a specific area; document their findings using the phone’s audio, visual, geographical information system (GIS), and GPS capabilities; and answer survey questions, such as whether the plant is growing in the shade or sun and if it’s flowering or not flowering. Students then aggregate their data to create a data set that allows them to interpret and discuss patterns and draw conclusions about the plant in their local environment.
Students and teachers can access the data on any web-enabled computer, whether at school, home, the library, or elsewhere. The student portion of the Active Explorer website includes a set of SmartWork tools that allow Explorers to use their data, photographs, video, and other collected information to make creative presentations, slideshows, videos, books, comics, posters, and other vehicles for sharing what they learned.
Finally, Tricia Sulpizio Estrada, founder and president of Brighter Future for Beautiful Minds, discussed her company’s creation, Wonkido—a visual organization tool for kids that also helps teach basic social skills.
The Wonkido Animated series teaches children social and life skills important for every day, and each story models correct behavior and teaches lessons for all ages. The Wonkido Visual Organizer allows kids to learn responsibility and independence by managing and organizing their daily activities, assignments, and schedules through a custom designed interface, marking the task as complete or leaving feedback.
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