Saturday, November 17, 2012

Smartphones and Tablets... Considerations for classroom use

There are times when we need to step away from our classrooms and even our school boards/districts/places of employment and participate in professional development. On Friday I had the opportunity to participate in two presentations on mobile learning/blended learning sponsored by Memorial University. Although it was geared towards the post secondary clientele, it certainly left me with things to reflect upon as well as confirmation of things I already knew. It also made be think about writing my thoughts in a blog post... so here goes...

To begin, many of our students have either a smartphone or a tablet. While their expertise in its application or use may vary... the fact they have the technology is a starting point for consideration. So let's consider some issues for classroom implementation

1) Wireless connectivity: Before any school can consider implementing Smartphone or Tablet technology in any classroom, how the technologies connect to the Internet has to be established first. We all experience wireless connections that drop and wireless connections that are very slow from a bandwidth perspective. Implementing these technologies in such networks will certainly result in frustration for both teacher and student... resulting in failure. Let's take an iPad classroom for example. If the wireless is not stable and fast... something as simple as updating apps could take forever to complete... if at all... when the process should be simple and automatic... as Apple has designed it to be. I don't think that data plans are needed while students are in school but solid and fast wireless connections are essential.

2) Social Networking: While students may not want us to be their "friend" they may still want us to "tweet" homework reminders and be able to access content in Facebook or Google+. Many teachers and administrators have a fear of social networking tools and their use in the K-12 classroom. While I think acceptable use policies are a must, so is the use of social networking tools a must. Hashtags in Twitter can both focus conversations as well as allow for formative assessment. And I could go on... My point being that social networking is a part of everyday life for our students and we need to start leveraging that for educational purposes.

3) Student accountability: I have heard a number of times that Smartphones and Tablets will be nothing more than tools for distraction in the classroom. It brings me back to first when we implemented TI calculators in our classrooms. The concern... Students would download games and be playing them as opposed to using them for math. In my class students knew this was not allowed... and they were held accountable if they did. In our modern tech age there are many things that can distract us and students are no different. If we assign a video to be watched or an online quiz to be completed, students ultimately have to do those things or otherwise accept the consequences that follow from that. Grades are one way that students are held accountable, while tracking/analytics is another way... and I am sure there are others. If we are ever to allow students to follow individualized learning paths, we need to hold them accountable while on that path. Students need to know how, when and where to use their smartphones and tablets responsibly and efficiently and be held accountable if they do not use them wisely and appropriately.

4) Consistency of Apps across all devices: One of the great things happening in the education technology these days is the area of software/app development. The amount of incredible apps (for free and for purchase) out there is phenomenal. One could spend forever and a day and never get through it all. It can be a daunting task for teachers and students if this evaluation of software/apps is not done before initial implementation, especially when considering teacher professional development. Hardware will sit on a teacher's shelf if they are not comfortable with its use. Likewise apps will not be used if teachers do not know how to use them either technically or pedagogically. In selection of apps for use in the classroom the primary criteria must be... is the app available for all devices? This becomes even more of an issue in a smartphone or tablet classroom where students bring their own devices. HTML 5 is certainly a consideration here as well. Equality and fairness for all students will mean their technology they bring in will work for all things that teachers do in the classroom.

5) Equality for all: From a society perspective, the issue of equality for all is not something that too many people would argue against. Since the majority of students attend school in the public system, equality is always a consideration. And for Smartphone and Tablet use it must to be a consideration. What happens if a child cannot afford a Tablet? Smartphone? Obviously provisions need to be made in these circumstances. These provisions could include a loaner/rental program where students get to sign out devices for classroom use. Maybe when students "upgrade" perhaps schools may look at a donation or buy back program. But before Smartphones and tablets can be a part of everyday use in a school, how to provide technology for those who cannot afford them has to be factored into the overall implementation plan.

My thoughts above are based upon one huge assumption... that being the school or classroom above would essentially be a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment. In times of rapid technological change as well as fiscal responsibility, BYOD seems to be the most cost effective option for schools. One thing is for certain... if we can get students using the devices they have for learning... it may change the discussion from banning the devices outright to eventually finding their appropriate place in the classroom. Time will tell.

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