Mobile mania

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector's experts: will mobile technology transform education for the better?

CONTRIBUTORS: 

  • Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, Co-Founder and CEO EdTech Europe
  • Harry Jawanda, CEO and Cofounder of WAMBIZ
  • Dave Saltmarsh, Educational Evangelist Jamf Software 
  • Justin Smith, Founder of EducationalAppStore.com

 

✥Mobile technologies offer teachers and students a more flexible approach to teaching and learning, but do the benefits of mobile tech outweigh the drawbacks?

Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet: In the school environment, smartphones and tablets offer many benefits. Firstly, and not insignificantly, these devices are much cheaper than desktop computers and laptops which, for a sector constantly under pressure to cut costs, is very appealing and allows the organisation to provide students access to online and digital learning programmes, all the while developing their tech skills and aptitude.

Secondly, the level of engagement with smartphones is so high amongst children that it seems like a missed opportunity not to use these devices to deliver education; they have the potential to totally transform the learning experience. The integration of devices allows for a continuum of touch points to support learning outside of the school environment. Apps, programmes and mobile optimised sites can provide access to teacher approved materials, study guides, quizzes, mock tests and so on – all enabling focused, personalised learning, in and out of the home to improve performance. It’s important to remember that incorporating the use of devices into education is not about substitution, but amplification – they provide access, can record and track performance, solidify knowledge, identify knowledge gaps and provide relevant content. Taking this all into account the pros certainly outweigh the cons. 

Harry Jawanda: Mobile devices and digital tools need to be embraced by both teachers and students but it is all about getting the balance right and seeing how mobile can work side by side with the school as it rolls out its curriculum and learning approach. This school generation lives and breathes social media and run their lives through their mobile devices, it’s something we cannot get away from so the goal must be to see how we can put the best content and information into the hands of those school children in a way that they can use and help further their learning and engagement.

Dave Saltmarsh: To answer this fully you would need to identify the perceived drawbacks. Certainly there are challenges and many of them deal with the need for changes to instructional practices. An alternative would be to remain with the current practices. The concept of anytime, anywhere learning isn’t new. Add to those ‘any pace’, and you have personalised learning. Meeting students’ needs and motivations does not need validating. What is needed is to see up the conditions for gradual progress and success in the classroom.

Justin Smith: Holistically speaking there are many benefits revolving around the integration of mobile learning through its support of engaging students in continuous learning. Research indicates how continuous learning improves retention of information within students when compared to the traditional learning approach. This result enables students to work independently outside of the classroom within the ease of using their mobile devices; younger students are also able to get their parents involved. Having the facilities they use at school with them at home will consequently lead to higher levels of attainment.

However, as with anything there are also disadvantages related to the execution of this which may be why the concept has been so slow to integrate within the UK. The first and most common factor related to this is the initial cost of running this. Real-term cuts are expected throughout 2014–2015 throughout public education spending; from 1% on schools, 20% in early years and up to a staggering 40% for higher education. This in itself is a problem when purchasing for hundreds of learners can be quite expensive.

There may be training required to use specific software and applications on the mobile devices which can prove to be time consuming and again costly. These devices will have to be insured to prevent loss from lost or stolen devices and a limited capacity will mean that students are only able to use and download certain apps. Access to irrelevant content and information on the mobile devices may in fact distract the student which in the long term will have negative impact on performance. 

✥Network security risks vary across different devices, but a safe and secure computing environment is essential. How can schools stay in control of this?

HJ: At the moment both sides aren’t meeting in the middle, you have school children using one set of tools and devices and teachers using others, while everyone wants to be safe and secure. The school has to protect the safety and security of its pupils, but also the professional integrity of its teachers, thus channels that cannot be properly controlled or monitored are not the right option when looking for safe and secure computing environments. They need something that can be thoroughly monitored so that action to ensure pupil and staff protection can be taken, if necessary of course. 

DS: By utilising the best tool designed for the given technology and supporting specific platforms within a school. Mixed environments within a classroom will challenge the ability to provide that safe and secure environment. And for teachers to embrace the use, there needs to be the ability for them to manage access down to individual students. 

JS: Currently, it can be determined that network security risks for a mobile device will be not as high as for a PC or laptop. With a diminutive number of cases reported with mobile devices it is not a cause of concern as of yet. However, schools can use Meraki MDM which is a multi-platform supporting iOS 4+, Android 2.2+, Mac OS X 10.5+ and Windows Vista+. It offers security for BYOD initiatives, and automatically classifies devices which are enrolled in the system. Devices can be grouped under different network groups and different profiles can be assigned to users. The core strength in relation to this is how it functions to be a system management; it is free and easy to sign up to. Rated extremely high by users it is something which will definitely enable schools to monitor and stay in control of the devices, and therefore prevent such a thing from occurring.

✥Does the UK lag behind in implementing mobile tech in schools? How can we learn from other nations?

BVC: There are a few countries currently demonstrating their ability to be innovative in implementing mobile technology in the classroom. For example, Asian developing market countries are using technology to overcome challenges around literacy and distance learning – where the use of mobile is helping with a very specific need. This rate of growth is not being replicated in the UK because of the different nature of our infrastructure and education system, we’re not as reliant on the devices to deliver education.

However, there are also examples of developed countries in the Asian market making huge advances in edtech implementation, which the UK could potentially mirror. Not only are these countries actively promoting the use of technology through their education policies but they’re also advocates of self-directed learning and continuous development. In South Korea for example, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced the Promotion Strategy for Smart Education in 2011 – a customised learning system that supports flexible learning with technology. Through the use of mobile and other technological tools, students are engaging in collaborative, creative and critical thinking. There has also been talk of a ‘Smart Campus’ from South Korean officials. Currently in development with IT companies across the region, the aim of the campus is to provide a wireless, cloud-based infrastructure so students can access learning materials via smartphones.

The Malaysian government is also focusing on integrating technology into its educational policies, recently launching Smart Education – a programme which aims to prepare learners for a knowledge based society through the use of ICT.

DS: There are pockets in the UK that are leading the use of mobile tech in schools. But as with other nations, there are those that are behind. What succeeds in one situation often depends on the scale involved and the attitude of all stakeholders. More importantly, the leadership at the specific school level will often determine success. If there is one constant that all successful models have, it’s stakeholder involvement – from all aspects of a school – at the beginning of plan development. Too often, silo-ed groups don’t come together until issues arise. Too often, schools work through things in isolation, often making the same errors that pioneering schools went through year before. Sending teams with stakeholders from all areas to visit and investigate successful models will lead to vicarious learning.  

JS: It can be said that the UK does lag behind in implementing mobile tech in schools, however using this to their advantage they have the opportunity to now benchmark and learn from the impacts of mobile learning before implementing it within the learning environment. In the 2010 mobile learning market, the US was the top mobile learning buying country, followed by Japan, South Korea, the UK, China and Taiwan. As you can see the UK is far towards the end of this and it is forecasted that by 2015 the top buying countries will be the US, China, India, Japan, Indonesia and Brazil, respectively; the UK not even listed. The difference identified is that Western Europe focuses more on ‘apps’ and ‘handhelds’ whereas other regions including Asia are focusing and evolving quickly in the ‘subscription based service’. Therefore in terms of learning from the regions that have already successfully implemented mobile technology into the education system it is important to identify the success factors and factors which have negatively impacted them.

✥In your opinion, what’s the next step for mobile tech in education?  

BVC: Increased penetration of mobile devices in schools should be a focus in the coming years as institutions start to realise the potential of this platform to deliver education. We also expect to see the combination of mobile deployment, with the emerging trend of adaptive learning – programmes which are constructed in a way to interact with the user, provide greater feedback to aid learning and adapt itself to ensure ultimate performance from the user. These two trends working in parallel will offer a truly disruptive force for the education market. Of course, this will still need to be recognised by the education sector as a valuable teaching method and adopted by teachers, so it could still face some challenges before complete adoption. We’d also expect to see the adoption of this method of teaching in other areas of education such as vocational learning and apprenticeships. Finland, for example, is a country currently making great strides in this respect.

HJ: There is no doubt that the mobile tablet offers an amazing route to engaging with school children and students and many companies are creating fantastic apps and modules to help learning. So content and materials are not the issue but educators have to look at ensuring deeper engagement levels and building relationships with learners. The best content is one thing; steering students in the right way down the right channel to access this and really enhance their learning potential will be key.

DS: It’s to move beyond the implementation – to focus on the use of technology and to evaluate the change of instructional practice. We also need a greater focus on those teachers that are not the early adopters. Too often, new technologies are designed and implemented with the pioneering teachers, but fail when attempted to scale across a school.

JS: The advance of technology will in result drive change and open new doors into learning. Therefore, concluding what is compelling to the students and has proved to be a success it will be easier to identify the next step. This could therefore mean the increase of personalisation and individualising the student, their progress and goals. Developing on this aspect will do what a teacher simply cannot within the working hours of a school day. In result continuous learning outside of school will increase, alongside encouraging students to work better by interactivity.