The proportion of people who see mobile devices as ‘the way forward’ in education is growing all the time. However, there is less consistency when it comes to shared understanding about how to effectively deploy mobile devices in the school environment.
The education media over the last two months has been full of stories about the monumental mismanagement of the Los Angeles iPad implementation programme. Whilst lots of educators have looked down their noses at the mess that was created there, some are ready to acknowledge that they might have fared no better;
I know of tablet implementation programmes in India that have involved little or no training or time spent addressing the key impacts on school culture. Sadly, in some cases, the emphasis was more on the marketing appeal of such a ‘modern’ approach, rather than the academic and educational aspects.
What then results is classrooms where teachers continue to ‘lecture’ pretty muc as they always did whilst at least half the class are exploring completely irrelevant things on the tablets, ignoring the far less appetizing fare offered by the teacher. This, in one case, then lead to scenarios where children would be told to put the tablets away for most of the time, with messages such as, “If you work hard and are good, I’ll let you get the tablets out for 10 minutes before break.” Should we be surprised in such situations that the children fail to realise the learning power of the tool, but instead see it as a toy for idle leisure pursuits.
Incidentally, on the basis of the article earlier probably the most valid point is that there is little to justify iPads rather than any one of a variety of generic tablets that can be had for 30-40% of the cost, yet give almost as much of the learning benefits. Whilst I respect apple greatly, their machines are not the best for the education domain (even the drop test data suggests that they’re not suitable). When a low cost tablet can be had for a cost equivalent to about 2 years of textbooks (loaded up with equivalent curriculum material), then there’s less fear associated with the hardware, especially the risks that worry parents of being held to account for loss or damage.
Here is an in-depth article from New York Times that explores many of the pros and cons of one-to-one tablet programmes. It addresses many of the fears and concerns that i’ve heard raised by parents and teachers;
On the point about ‘screen time’ my own suspicion is that as the amount of time children spend using tablets in the school/ education environment increase, so there will be some reduction in the currently increasing amount of ‘idle leisure’ time children are spending with screens. I believe, there’s as much chance that we’ll see an increase as a decrease in physically active pursuits. Somewhere, i think instinct within children will make them want to have active time. I would be delighted to see some of their screen time contributing to something productive.
The article quite rightly highlights that the biggest potential benefit to flow out of the use of ICT is personalization of the learning experience in a way that conventional schooling, even with the best teachers hasn’t been able to achieve.
One example I often give is when a child gets an illness or an injury that causes them to miss 3-4 weeks of school time. In India and many other countries, regrettably, this happens to many children at some point during their schooling. In a traditional scenario, the child stops all learning from the moment they step out of school until the day they step back in. When they go back, they are expected to go along with their peer classmates, as if they missed no time at all. To ‘close the gap’ teachers leave the onus on the child and parents. The assumption is that ‘copying the notes’ from a friend is an adequate substitute for the learning missed. Of course, if that was true, we could just copy the notes in a few weeks and give the children the rest of the year off!! (heretical thoughts, I know)
In the ICT enabled, personalised learning environment, firstly as the child starts to recover at home they can start to re-engage with their learning, even engaging in online discussions with classmates from home. The amount of work they do each day can be calibrated to their recovery until they are fit to return to school. Then, they pick up from where they left off – not where the class has reached.
The final document I share here is a white paper produced by a firm of consultants, Heff Jones Nystrom. It provides some sound advice about implementation, what matters and the working practices to make one-to-one programmes succesful as well as some of the evidence that’s beginning to accumulate on the learning and educational benefits that can be achieved from an effective programme.