Mobile Technologies In The Classroom

By Justine Isard.

There is no denying we are slow off the mark. As other industries embraced the power of mobile technologies, the education sector saw it more as a distraction and a competitor to essential learning that, in some ways, had more value last century. The very devices, banned not that long ago, are now being trialled by schools that eagerly want to engage and become more relevant in the digital age. We cannot change how we got here, but the good news is that we are here now.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are mobile technologies necessary for today’s students? These devices profoundly personify and connect today’s youth like no other technology has before. To not utilise them in the classroom would be a tragedy and a missed opportunity of immense proportion to engage meaningfully with today’s generation of learners. If last Christmas is anything to go by, with nearly half of the kids in the USA wanting an iPad for Christmas (according to Nielsen Survey, 2011), things are changing and we must too.

Thinking back not that long ago, computers were supposed to be the catalyst that was going to transform education, but that hasn’t really happened. Twentieth century traditional learning is still alive and well with tables in rows, and the chalk-and-talk model still commonplace in many Australian schools. Mobile technologies, on the other hand, are shaking things up and it’s about time!

These devices, used effectively in teaching and learning, have enormous potential and I’m not alone in thinking so. Steve Wheeler at the 2011 LearnTEC Conference in Germany said he sees these mobile technologies as the platform to link traditional, formal learning with the informal learning styles that appeal to today’s learners.

Recently, I did a keynote at a higher education conference in Melbourne where there was a great deal of buzz and interest in the power of mobile technologies. On the whole, the vibe was that it makes sense to incorporate them in teaching and learning.

In 2011, Adelaide University completed a successful trial with every first-year science student having their own iPad, and the trial is continuing with both the first and second-year students this year. St Virgil’s College in Tasmania are in their third year of trialling iPads in the classroom. This year, they are set for all Year 9 and 10 students to go one-to-one with their own iPads. Richard Lawler, Director of ICT, said that their research shows that teachers who saw the iPad as a different way of teaching, had more success than those that treated the iPad like a small laptop.

Around the world, schools are trialling a range of mobile technologies and, on the whole, the news is good. The Guardian (UK) reported on the 30th October, 2011 that the primary school, Ysgol Glannau Gwaun, in Fishguard, invested in 16 iPads and 20 iPods to improve literacy skills among its 247 students.

The school’s thinking was that, the boys especially, might respond positively to the technology. Rachel Morgan, the ICT co-ordinator, said children were “learning without realising they were learning”.

“A lot of the boys, especially, don’t like writing. They feel pressured if they are asked to write down a story,” she said.

Students are using other applications like Storyrobe that use still images, video, and their own voice to create a story, rather than having to write it down. “They can quickly share it with their peers, and they like doing that,” said Morgan.

Teacher, Gareth Owen, commented that the technology was being enjoyed particularly by some of the “more challenging” boys.

“They feel this is something they know about; something they can do. I’ve seen some of the tough guys teaching the younger children with real sensitivity. I hope we can get 20 or 30 more,” he said.

I echo the belief that mobile technologies in the classroom make complete sense, especially for boys. These devices are in tune with how numerous boys enjoy learning. Many boys are visual learners and these mobile devices allow for greater use of multimodal literacies. The kinaesthetic nature of the device is very appealing to boys who are generally active learners. Mobile devices make it is easier to freely move around the learning environment. Another appealing, kinaesthetic feature of the device’s navigation is its finger-touch control.

The tools within many devices, such as cameras and apps, encourage the use of voice and images rather than writing as the only means of recording and communicating. The ability to choose which app they wish to work in, and being able to work independently and at their own pace, complements the needs and interests of boys beautifully. And, of course, personalised learning has never been so easy to achieve.

The intuitive nature of many mobile devices is particularly positive for boys that are often disengaged due to low literacy skills and low self-esteem. These devices don’t require a huge skill-set, which means it’s easier for more people to engage and experience greater feelings of success and higher self-esteem. I have personally been astonished by how my two- and four-year-old children engage with my iPad. Forget spending time showing them how to use a new children’s app my husband or I have downloaded. Within minutes, they have worked it out and they are on their way.

As an education consultant promoting the professional development  of mobile technology pedagogy for teachers, I am often contacted by educators asking how they can convince their school leadership to invest in mobile devices. I have never seen educators so passionately advocating these devices, and if anyone knows what their students need, teachers do. They are our direct link to students, and the ones we should be listening to.

What it comes down to is that the make or break of the success of mobile technologies in the classroom is the teacher, not the device. In John Hattie’s (2003) well known research on the subject, the biggest influence on student learning and achievement was unquestionably the teacher.

The teacher is central to the success of any initiative in the classroom. So schools must invest in the professional development of teachers and their effective use of this device. This is a big change and most people don’t like change. However, if good support from management is provided, it will be successful.

We don’t have to think back that far to remember other technological investments in learning that didn’t really get off the ground. This is mostly due to the little time spent on building teacher capacity. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. It’s simple. If you want to embrace mobile technologies in the classroom and get results, invest in your teachers first.

My Three Tips Would Be:

1. Quality Professional Development – Professional development that shows teachers authentic examples of utilising mobile technologies in teaching and learning, and how personalised learning and collaboration can be achieved with mobile devices; How to manage the device with the students insofar as their rules and expectations are concerned; How to integrate mobile technologies into the curriculum and get learning outcomes.

2. Teachers must have time to become familiar with the device with in-house support crucial. Innovative teachers that aren’t afraid of change will give it a red-hot go right from the start, and these are the people school management should support to get them showcasing in meetings. Get them paired up quickly with teachers dragging their heels on getting mobile technology of the ground and into their classrooms.

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) online and in school are also very powerful as a means of bringing about change. There is a wealth of resources online for educators to tap into about mobile technologies and learning, but essentially, it is about educators taking action by sharing, learning and experimenting.

3. Teachers need to be using the device themselves. The biggest advocates for mobile technology are those that are using it. All planning and lesson delivery should be coming from the mobile device used in the classroom for teaching and learning.

I have to be practical here as to why mobile technologies make so much sense as a learning tool. At the end of the day, the best device is the one that is with you and, quite frankly, students are more likely to have some type of mobile device than a PC. There is a string of other benefits that includes size, weight, battery life and wireless connection to the internet. This really is information on demand, and no valuable teaching and learning time is wasted while waiting for students to start their computers. Learning with mobile devices is much more real and fluid, whereas many lessons that require laptops generally need to be planned ahead of time. Utilising mobile technology is about learning as it occurs.

Already, kids everywhere are busy making apps and are cashing in. Sixteen-year-old Ebony Samantha from Newcastle, has developed the photography app, Lomo Ho. Seventeen-year-old Brandon Cowan from Sydney’s North Shore, has created an iParkedHere app which helps users remember where their car is parked and can warn them when the parking time has run out. We have to harness this creativity and energy in our classrooms. We are in one of the most stimulating times in history with these amazing devices literally at our students’ fingertips. Really, what choice do we have? They are here.

Technology moves rapidly. We are not in a position to sit around and wait for five to ten years of research to determine whether mobile learning is an effective learning platform or not. We need to simply look at our students, see how they are engaging with mobile technology and embrace this in our learning settings. We are the pioneers of mobile technology in learning, and there are certainly going to be challenges and changes. But mostly it’s exciting and I say, bring it on!

Justine Isard director of MyLearning, based in Melbourne, provides schools with high-quality professional development in her two specialist areas of boys’ education and digital learning.  In 2012, Justine will be running a series of Mobile Technology Pedagogy sessions around Australia and within schools. Contact Justine at 0433 412 720 or

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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