Important steps in a mobile learning initiative

School mobile learning programs take advantage of kids’ technology knowledge.

Having a clear vision when contemplating a school or district mobile learning program, as well as being flexible when building that program, are two essential steps if school technology leaders want to bring a mobile learning initiative to fruition.

During an webinar on mobile learning, Scott Newcomb, a teacher at St. Marys Intermediate School in Ohio and blogger, shared experiences and tips he has gained in the five years that his school has operated a “bring your own device” (BYOD) mobile learning initiative.

One of the biggest mistakes or roadblocks to successful mobile learning is “leading with fear,” Newcomb said. Many educators approach a mobile learning proposal with negative thoughts and assume that student devices will be stolen or that students will cheat.

“The reality of mobile learning is that it’s very collaborative,” he said. “Kids love working together, and sharing, and creating–they’re very engaged.”

(Next page: Critical mobile learning considerations)A major motivation for any mobile learning program, whether it is a BYOD program or whether a school provides devices, is that it reaches students through the same channels they already use to learn. Students use mobile devices in their personal lives, for personal communication as well as for collaboration on school assignments. School mobile learning programs take advantage of kids’ technology knowledge and the excitement that stems from projects they create using technology.

Newcomb said he hasn’t had any of the problems that many assume accompany mobile learning initiatives–not a single device has been stolen or broken.

“It’s amazing what happens when you give students the opportunity to be responsible,” he said.

Some of the biggest steps to success in a mobile learning initiative include:
1.    Start out small: Trying an implementation on a small scale is a wise first step before going all-out with a mobile learning program.
2.    Have a clear vision and a goal: Well-outlined goals, allowing for flexibility, will help programs stay on course as they are piloted and tweaked.
3.    See mobile learning in action: Observing a successful mobile learning program in a classroom helps administrators and educators envision that same type of success in their own school.
4.    Model appropriate behavior: Educators should use their own technology devices in the classroom with students, and in the same manner that students are expected to use their devices.
5.    Offer consistent professional development: On a regular basis, teachers in St. Mary’s partner with other schools to brainstorm ideas and share best practices.

St. Mary’s began its mobile learning program five years ago with 120 PDAs, and the school introduced 575 smart phones, which educators refer to as mobile learning devices, in the second year. The third and fourth years saw a BYOD policy take shape, and in its fifth year, the school went to a full BYOD implementation and provided 500 mobile learning devices to students. Under the BYOD policy, students bring tablets, iPod Touch devices, Kindles, and smart phones.

Unfortunately, the school is losing its one-to-one mobile learning device program, although the BYOD program will continue, Newcomb said.

“Learning is messy,” Newcomb said. “You have to be flexible, and you have to have teachers who are flexible with technology. It doesn’t always work our perfectly. You have to be willing to try some different things.”

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