Mobile learning and the ability to give students anytime, anywhere access to school resources are high on every educator’s list, but the technology brings with it valid concerns—including access for students from different economic backgrounds, school bandwidth capability, and network security.
During an April 17 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) webinar, experts shared strategic planning tips for mobile learning initiatives and explained how to unite chief technology officers, administrators, and educators.
Mobile learning “is such a transformational phase in education today,” said Lenny Schad, chief information officer for the Katy Independent School District in Texas. “Most importantly, mobile learning is not about the device. Mobile learning is about philosophically changing the way you’re going to conduct instruction inside the classroom.”
Educators also are able to leverage the personal investment that parents, teachers, and community members make in technology devices, he noted, adding that students can use their own devices, school-owned devices, or devices donated by businesses or community members for student use.
“It’s really important that you have first the understanding, and then acceptance, from the school, teachers, parents, and the school board, because they need to understand why you’re trying to [implement] this philosophical change in instruction,” Schad said. “There are going to be bumps in the road.”
In 2009, Katy ISD introduced Web 2.0 tools, digital citizenship, and a mobile learning pilot into the district. In 2010, it expanded those efforts. Then in 2011, district administrators continued the district’s mobile learning initiatives, launched public Wi-Fi, and rolled out a “bring your own device” (BYOD) initiative along with the Wi-Fi launch.
“If you’re using Web 2.0, this is such a natural segue,” Schad said.
And the district’s efforts have paid off: Schad said differentiated learning plays a major role in many classrooms. Student engagement, creativity, collaboration, attendance, and responsible technology use all have improved, and behavioral issues and referrals have decreased.
“It’s also breaking down the walls of the traditional school day,” he said. “Now it’s learning, anytime, anywhere.”
One of the most valuable lessons that Schad and district leaders learned is that the notion of one device per child is quickly becoming outdated, as students often have two or three devices, such as a smart phone, internet-capable mobile device such as an iPod Touch, and tablet devices. This, he said, makes it necessary for schools to examine their wireless infrastructures and ensure that there is enough bandwidth and device management capability to handle the increased demand.
Becky Fisher, director of educational technology and professional development in Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools, said that mobile device management raises a number of important questions and considerations for school and district technology leaders:
- Who chooses the device? Some district leaders do not care what particular device is used, while others want a uniform selection. Teacher, parents, and student input is important.
- What questions do you want to ask?
- Who owns the device? Even when district personnel choose technology purchases and assign devices to students, there are various levels of student ownership over the device.
- Who determines when, and how, to use the chosen device? Must teachers still “give students permission” to use their devices, whether the devices are student-owned (BYOD) or district-owned?
- Who supports the device? Will district technology staff check for updates and maintain devices, or, if the district has implemented a BYOD initiative, are software upgrades and device management left up to students?
- Who provides access for the device? Students may access the internet through a school’s filtered, public Wi-Fi, but student-owned smart phones on a 3G or 4G network give students the ability to access the internet through their own, unfiltered networks.
- Who is responsible for the responsible use of the device? “We want to have those conversations with kids and…[enroll] our parents in that conversation,” Fisher said.
Lucy Gray, project director of CoSN’s Mobile Learning Initiative and the webinar’s moderator, shared 10 planning tips that school leaders should consider as they move toward a mobile learning platform:
- Begin with a thorough knowledge of your school culture.
- Create a strategic multi-year plan.
- Conduct total cost of ownership analyses.
- Start with a pilot and expand on successes.
- Rethink acceptable use policies.
- Be creative with professional development.
- Nurture early adopters.
- Ensure a robust network.
- Enlist parents and the community in supporting the program.
- Focus on improving teaching and learning, not on the devices.
“We decided that we needed to start producing a new K-12 teacher,” said Billie McConnell, director of K-12 professional development at ACU Connected Consulting, which is part of Abilene Christian University. He said the university recognized a need to develop teachers who are ready to enter technology-rich environments.
McConnell outlined five things that teachers want school and district IT departments to know:
- Shared vision: Without a shared vision, every stakeholder group defines a mobile learning model differently. Schools should gather stakeholders and created a shared vision to decide what it is they are trying to accomplish.
- Policies that match and model this shared vision: Most districts have in place policies that have been around for a long time and that don’t match what the district is trying to do (such as policies requiring students to leave technology devices in lockers, blocking certain web content, etc.). It’s worth a look at school and district policies to see what might be updated or removed.
- Easier processes: A mobile learning initiative should include ways to make it easier for students and teachers to access apps, install software, store and send digital work, collaborate, and provide quick ways to unblock relevant websites. “Coming together with the vision and finding the policies and procedures that make it easier for teachers” will help, McConnell said.
- Infrastructure for actual capacity: Students will be bringing and using more than one device, McConnell said, echoing Schad’s observation. “We were creating the learning environment, but students were choosing the tools, and we broke our network,” McConnell said. “We were no longer a one-to-one environment, but we were a three-to-one environment.”
- Untethered classroom: This includes wireless access from anywhere on campus, access at home and in the community, and wireless projection from mobile devices. Identifying ways to help students take learning outside of the classroom will help them develop skills they will need in the future, McConnell said. Finding access for all students, including those who might not have at-home internet service, is crucial. “[We are] finding ways to make internet access easier for students, but also to start looking at our communities as places of 24-7 learning,” he said.