Mobile devices are infiltrating our education system, and while it seems like the sky is the limit with these devices, problems do exist and we as educators must be aware of them. The purpose of this post is to explore both problems and opportunities that mobile learning and mobile devices presents.
Digital Divide – While mobile learning is proliferating a lot of the discussion in education circles, we as educators must be cognizant of the digital divide – that is the the notion that our students may not have the financial wherewithal to afford the tools that are required for mobile learning. According to the Illinois State Board of Education in an article written in the Chicago Tribune, over 47% of Illinois Students were eligible for free or reduced lunch and while this doesn’t specifically translate to mobile device ownership, it gives educators a good idea of the financial situation of some of their students and the financial restrictions students may face in acquiring these mobile devices.
Pedagogical shift – The next two problems can be stand alone problems but are also directly related. The fact that mobile learning puts the power to learn in the learner’s hands makes mobile learning exciting, it also represents a pedagogical shift away from teacher-centered learning and makes the learning more student-centered. While some educators welcome that shift many, for numerous reason, do not. The issue becomes how do we get teachers to embrace the pedagogical shift that is occurring not just with mobile learning but throughout all of education. With this issue, mobile learning is a symptom of the bigger problem.
Educator ignorance – While the pedagogical shift from teacher-centered to student centered instruction is occurring with or without mobile devices (mobile devices do quicken the pace and make the shift easier), educator ignorance about mobile devices continues to plague the widespread implementation of mobile devices in today’s curriculum. While some educators are willing to go transform their teaching to allow for more student-centered learning, they may be ignorant to the new technology that is involved with mobile devices. While some of this ignorance may come from not willing to allow mobile devices into the classroom, according to a survey taken at our school, most teachers do not understand or are scared by the technology associated with mobile devices and therefore believe that they should not be incorporated into classrooms. We as educators who understand and can inform these teachers must do so otherwise our students will end up losing.
Differentiated Instruction – Now more than ever in our classrooms, we need differentiated instruction. Teachers must now be able to help several different levels of learners learn at the same time. Mobile devices are allowing for teachers to differentiate in their classrooms and now sacrifice other students’ valuable learning time. Our social studies department purchased 5 iPod Touches this past semester, and in my AP Economics class, I was able to utilize them for differentiation by downloading some test-prep software onto them. As students finished their graphing assignments, they were able to check out the iTouch and review with the test-prep material while they waited for the other students to finish or ask questions. Those who excelled in that lesson were able to get enrichment via the mobile devices and I was able to focus on helping those who struggled with the lesson.
On-Demand Learning – Personally this has been the most exciting opportunity that mobile learning presents. Students’ schedules are increasingly busy and mobile devices allow for students to participate in learning on their terms and on their time. This year in AP Economics when students were sent home with graphing homework, I would receive emails throughout the night asking “how to” questions about the graph we went over in class. I was able to utilize the power of mobile devices to help these students learn better by allowing them to record the graphing lesson on their mobile devices (phones), and they were able to watch and re-watch the lessons on their own time for clarification. Many of them also found that once the videos were on the phones, they made for handy mechanisms of review for the unit test or semester final.
1-to-1 Classroom Environment – According to a Pew Internet and American Life survey taken in April, 32% of Americans have accessed the internet on their mobile phones. I would imagine if they polled teenagers and younger, that number would be significantly higher. Those numbers look promising for educators who are desiring a 1-to-1 classroom environment but have found themselves constrained by tightening school budgets. A lot of these phones that our students are carrying on them have the same power (if not more) than a lot of computers that our school systems have and the power of the mobile devices can give educators that 1-to-1 classroom environment without the excessive cost.