Envisioning mobile technology and professional development

At a conference last week, I participated in a focus group on mobile technology in education.  The conference was attended by both K-12 educators and higher education faculty and the focus group had a good mixture of both.  At the onset of the discussion, the facilitator asked how many participants were using mobile devices in educational ways in their institutions.  Few of the attendees were.  Many cited institutional challenges or economic situations that impeded the deployment of any full scale mobile technology initiative.  Some of the attendees added that their institutions were considering “bring your own device” programs where students would be allowed to use their own mobile devices in classroom settings.  Later in the discussion, the facilitator asked the group to envision ways they could use mobile technology with their students.  At first, there was silence.  Then, one of the participants hesitantly offered that “students could read their textbooks on them.”  Another added “students could take quizzes on their mobile devices.”  This prompted another participant to add that then teachers could assess students when they were “on the bus or at the mall or anywhere.”

Since this was an educational technology conference, I really expected more ideas from the group.  These were educators who were leading all sorts of innovative projects at their respective institutions, but many were struggling with seeing that mobile technology can completely transform how we teach and how students learn.  Students can use their mobile devices to access libraries and libraries of information. Students will be able to use their mobile devices to collaborate with their peers and communicate with experts from around the world.  They’ll be able to collect data in the field, whether by recording media or by using specialized apps.  Mobile technology has the ability to redefine where students learn, how they contribute, what information they bring to classroom discussions and when they participate.  According to an Educause 2011 report on Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 55% of college students own smartphones.  The promise of mobile technology isn’t off in the distant future.  It’s now.

While I initially found the focus group frustrating, the discussion also reminded me of the SAMR model which I wrote about last fall.  The model presents a hierarchy of integration phases that educators typically employ.  For instance, educators can integrate technology as a substitution to something they typically have done.  And that’s where the focus group attendees were starting.  They were substituting mobile technology for the typical things they already do in their classrooms.  While the SAMR model is often used to describe how educator’s integrate new technologies into their classroom, it can also be a powerful lens to describe educator’s evolution with integrating new learning technologies.  Looking at educators’ learning trajectories from this standpoint can help to inform the design and implementation of professional development activities, whether in K-12 or higher education environments.

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