Helping teachers grasp mobile learning’s possibilities


In constructing ed-tech professional development, the focus should not be on teaching apps, but on helping educators grasp the possibilities inherent in mobile, personalized, and differentiated learning environments.

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“By facilitating a self-directed and immersive experience that is supported with personalized guidance, we are creating a learning environment that we hope teachers will emulate in their own tech-infused classrooms,” Daccord writes.

“Leading Change” column, September 2013 edition of eSchool News—In my last column, I argued that schools are in need of real and meaningful iPad professional development. While many schools focus on the “nuts and bolts” of basic features in mobile apps, incorporating iPads effectively into instruction requires creative thinking and forethought.

Although the iPad (and other mobile technology) is largely intuitive, incorporating it effectively into teaching and learning is by no means self-evident. While teachers readily understand how to take a picture, shoot a video, or open a PDF, few immediately grasp the implications of these operations for transforming assessment, modeling exemplary practices, and nurturing creative self-expression. Many struggle to conceive of effective iPad learning beyond their four walls or in networked communities.

In constructing ed-tech professional development, the focus should not be on teaching apps, but on helping educators grasp the instructional capabilities that exist in mobile, personalized, and differentiated learning environments.

Professional development should inspire teachers to integrate the iPad as a portable media creation device that manifests student learning and nurtures essential skills for our digital age. Mobile environments that empower students to assume more control over their learning and demonstrate understanding through various media help embolden students to be proactive consumers and creative problem solvers.

(Next page: A successful model of professional development for mobile learning)

In EdTechTeacher workshops, we strive to put educators in the role of proactive consumers and creative problem solvers by emphasizing pedagogy and immersive learning. At the heart of the process is hands-on, “challenge-based” activities that put participants at the center of the learning environment. Instead of saying, “Here is how you take a picture” or “This is how you switch apps”—characteristics of passive, “do what I do” environments—we challenge educators to learn basic and advanced skills on their own, or in small groups. By completing even small challenges, participants gain a measure of confidence and comfort in their ability to overcome greater challenges. And they live a “don’t be afraid to fail” philosophy that they often try to instill in their own students.

With mobile apps specifically, we help teachers visualize new learning possibilities. For instance, we challenge educators to take a PDF document, or a blank screen, and turn it into a multimedia presentation, a tutorial, a short story, or a virtual tour. Challenge-based professional learning avoids creating a culture of dependency in which educators immediately turn to “experts” and ask them to “show me how to do it.” By providing both beginner and advanced challenges, we allow participants to work at their own pace, enabling us to model strategies for differentiated learning.

As our instructors circulate to offer tips and just-in-time guidance, we’re creating an environment that fosters a proper balance between self-exploration and direction. Furthermore, by facilitating a self-directed and immersive experience that is supported with personalized guidance, we are creating a mobile learning environment that we hope teachers will emulate in their own tech-infused classrooms.

For ed-tech professional development to be truly meaningful and successful, it must explore the instructional possibilities for augmenting—and even redefining—learning in digital-age classrooms. If we want teachers to integrate exemplary practices and inspire the next generation, we must prepare them in relevant mobile learning environments.

What we should be asking teachers to do is not master devices or apps, but think about learning in new ways. The pathway to success is not a click-here-with-me or a facile, “how-to” approach. It is rethinking learning in the context of new possibilities.

Tom Daccord is the director of EdTechTeacher, a leading professional learning organization.

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