Collaboration key in mobile learning

Roundtable of education specialists and ICT experts discuss how educational institutions use mobile devices to enhance teaching and learning

Enterprise mobility provider AirWatch by VMware recently organised a ‘Mobility in Education’ roundtable at AirWatch Connect London, an annual gathering where mobility customers, resellers and technology partners meet to discuss the latest trends and innovations in enterprise mobility.

The roundtable hosted education specialists, journalists and ICT experts to discuss how educational institutions use mobile devices and applications in teaching and learning. The forum debated a number of current themes and issues including how educational institutions manage students’ and parents’ expectations from mobility, the benefits associated with mobile learning and the potential disadvantages of using mobile devices in the classroom.

Catherine Scutt, head of creative teaching and learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), said: “From our perspective, blurring the lines between home and school is exactly what we’re trying to do. Allowing students to play games or watch TV with a learning focus makes them more conscious of what they are learning.

“Rather than bringing the recreational element of mobile devices into the school environment, we’re trying to achieve the opposite by taking educational materials from the school environment to the home environment in order to promote continuity of learning,” she added.

Karen Littleton, Professor at the Open University’s Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology, said: “Having permeability of boundaries is exactly what we want to achieve in our mobility project. We’ve had to work hard on this with the parents to reassure them that things that are created outside the school context can migrate and become trusted objects of enquiry when they are brought back to the classroom. This is done to build on the potential for permeability rather than to set up barriers.”  

“Giving every student in the classroom access to an iPad was a massive advantage for us and outweighed any potential negatives,” said David Burns, network services manager, Harrogate Grammar School. “Going 1:1 has levelled the playing field for our students and gave them access to the same learning applications and resources, creating a continuity of learning from the classroom to the home environment,” added Burns.

Despite the fact that using mobile technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in education, some argue that students using mobile devices for note taking perform less well than others, and end up inadvertently distracting others around them with their screens.

“We don’t find that working on iPads inhibits students’ ability to concentrate over long periods of time,” said Scutt. “We find that using mobile devices engages our students so much so that they carry on working on them even after the school day finishes.”

Burns added: “In our experience, we have come across some brilliant examples in our school that show creative uses of the iPad. We also noticed that communication has improved dramatically, and students are now able to personalise their devices and use email to communicate and engage with the school.

“It’s not only about the device replacing text books; it’s about using the device to do what traditional books can’t do,” said Professor Littleton. “We work with different schools who are interested in the potential of mobile technologies in children’s early literacy development, collaborative learning and research. We’re looking at where these technologies can play some supporting enquiry outside the classroom to do data collection, for example, for subjects like science and the local environment.”

For GDST, the potential for collaboration should be a key driver for mobility adoption in education. Scutt said: “What we don’t want to do is end up using the device like a notebook, doing the same things you’d do on paper. The focus should be placed on using the collaboration functions that these devices offer. Otherwise it’s not a worthwhile project.”

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