It's been a week since the seminar in Cambridge and this will be my final post on mLearning in this series. Before I get into the actual content of this post, let's take a look at some of the statistics from the session, from Twitter, Facebook and the f2f and live streams:
We got 192 tweets on Twitter and 134 likes on Facebook. Meanwhile, on the evening we had over fifty people in the room, and 291 unique views of the live stream. I was particularly pleased with numbers attending online (we had just over 500 people actually registered). My experience with live streams is that around twenty percent of those registering actually attend, so this was a great success and I'd like to thank each and every one of you for coming along. I've certainly rarely seen numbers like this for an online seminar.
The seminar itself unearthed a variety of attitudes to mLearning, and in this final blog entry I'd like to take a look at some of the questions and comments that came in online and see where we go from here.
One of the major issues was that many institutions have policies against mobile devices and this, of course, makes it virtually impossible for teachers to get started and to learn from experimentation. Typical comments here included "still working in schools who are against using mobile phones in classes :-(" and "I wish I could use them in class, but my workplace thinks it wastes class time and makes us lose control". This issue of losing control is not just institutional, but also seen in other parts of an organisation - those who look after the technology infrastructure. As one virtual participant observed: "IT people still complain about "lack of control" over mLearning devices".
This is a perennial problem - the need for control. I firmly believe that this is not an issue of control, of censorship or of limiting access or use. If an institution does consider implementing mLearning then it should be done in consultation with all the stakeholders: school board, IT team, teachers, learners, parents... The benefit of having these kinds of conversations can not be overstated. Everybody in the process needs to feel comfortable with the initiative, and to perceive the benefits. In this sense we need to clearly explain the benefits for each group. Using examples of good practice around the world is one way of moving things forward. As one other participant on the seminar noted: "Strange how educators worldwide talk about virtual and mobile learning but we still have places which have policies agsinst using them in class". Perhaps one way forward is to get these two groups together; the ones talking about (and doing) it, and the ones who don't allow it, and see if they can work together to understand each others' worlds.
A couple of online participants mentioned that they had seen mobile device usage in other subjects (maths, for example) but that nothing was happening in the English classes. This seems to echo the experiences I've had with school teachers around the world - if you're teaching maths or science, you get plenty of access to technologies... but it you're teaching English you're so far down the list that you never get the opportunity. I'll never really understand why this happens, and I can only sympathise and urge a 'soft revolution' on the part of the English teachers.
A few participants shared their favourite technologies: "the Flip camera - the essence of brilliant gadgets - turn it on and use is straight away" and "the USB remote mouse is a cheap, brilliant interactive tool" whilst others agreed with me that the modern mobile phone is a marvel of 'convergence', bringing together - as it does - a variety of tools in one useful package. As one online participant put it, "I don't need a Flip camera, I just use my mobile instead. I have to say that I think smartphones are amazing devices for getting a lot of things done, but there is something to be said for each individual device: the Flip only records video, but it does it extremely well and it's a snap to get that video off the camer and onto a computer, and upload it to YouTube. A phone can take a decent photograph, but if you're serious about photography, then you're going to want to buy something better. We need to learn to look critically at the task, and decide on the best tool for it.
There were many fans of the Kindle online: "Since I've had a Kindle I've been devouring books at a gorgeously alarming rate" (an excellent turn of phrase!) but also a lot of people who are still very happy with their older technologies: "Can you smell ebooks? I want to smell books. I want to take notes with my colourful pens or pencils on my books." As one person pointed out, "It's easier to make notes on paper than on a Kindle".
And I suspect a lot of this is true for us - I still write paper notes and lists, and I find it difficult to brainstorm on the iPad, but I wonder if this will still be true for learners in a a few years (or if it is even true now)? Times change, and the way we work changes. As I said int he seminar, I think mobile and handheld devices are devices that fit neatly into the 'major change' category of events, and I think their use in a lot of classrooms globally is now a matter of 'when' rather than 'if'. Personally I'm very excited to see what happens in the next decade or two!
The final word goes to an online participant from Russia: "Even though I'm conservative, Gavin could encourage me to use mLearning technologies in my classroom"
So, did I encourage you? Are the obstacles too great at the moment? Or do you prefer smelling books? Feel free to comment below...
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