Cellphones & school: A great mix
Today, two views on mobile learning: that of an 18-year-old social entrepreneur and school-reform activist in Georgia and that of a researcher guest-blogging at O’Reilly’s Radar….
If you have any doubts about mobile learning at school, I have two suggestions: 1) Take about 5 minutes to watch college freshman Travis Allen of Fayetteville, Ga., demonstrate how iPhones can be used in school, from classroom applications to keeping track of homework to student-teacher-parent communications in a video on YouTube, and 2) check out the iSchool Initiative, a nonprofit organization Allen founded as a “partnership of students, teachers, school administrators, and software application developers” designed to help all parties “comprehend each others’ needs” and help students themselves advocate for the intelligent use of technology at school.
It all started, Allen says in his blog, when his parents got him an iPod Touch for Christmas of 2008. Now at Kennesaw State University, he says the Initiative has “three primary objectives: raising awareness for the technological needs of the classroom, providing collaborative research on the use of technology in the classroom, and guiding schools in the implementation of this technology.” He’s not alone. See, for example, this tutorial on YouTube from Radford University in Virginia showing teachers step-by-step how to create a quiz on the iPod Touch so the class can take the quiz and together go over the results in the same class.
Why cellphones, not textbooks?
Qualcomm has been looking into just that question, funding field research such as Project K-Nect in rural North Carolina, where remedial math on iPod Touches has helped students increase proficiency by 30%. Writing in Radar, Marie Bjerede, Qualcomm’s vice president of wireless education technology, says the project has turned up four reasons why it helps to teach with cellphones:
1. Multimedia in their hands. Each set of math problems starts with a little animated video showing how to work the problem. “You could theorize that this context prepares the student to understand the subsequent text-based problem better. You could also theorize that watching a Flash animation is more engaging (or just plain fun),” Bjerede writes.
2. Instruction is personalized. So “students need to compare solutions” not answers. “How did you get that” replaces “what did you get?”
3. Collaborative math. “Students are asked to record their solutions on a shared blog and are encouraged to both post and comment. Over time, a learning community has emerged that crosses classrooms and schools and adds the kind of human interaction that an isolated, individual drill (be it textbook or digital) lacks and that a single teacher is unlikely to have the bandwidth to provide to each student.”
4. Unanticipated participation: “Students who don’t like to raise their hands use the devices to ask questions or participate in collaborative problem solving [with blogging and instant messaging]. There appears to be something democratizing about having a ‘back channel’ as part of the learning environment.”