Transitioning into an Era of Mobile Learning

It’s undeniable – kids are glued to their phones. Enter any high school and you will find groups of students staring at a smartphone screen. There’s an actual sense of attachment between kids and their phones; just try to take it away.

Even if they are quite obviously bond to their device, another undeniable observation can be made: our students are consumers of information and media, and not contributors. Sure, there are pockets of students that are regular vloggers, who post videos on their personal YouTube channel, follow and write blogs… but the average user is consuming information, and at best, sharing what they viewed or read.

The applications used to produce  annotated pictures, videos, short articles, infographs, sketchnotes, memes – most of what is currently being published on the Internet, are available for smartphones. There’s an app for that, and unlike our generation, the students in our classrooms our more open to using a smaller device as a tool.

Furthermore, most wouldn’t think of leaving the house without their telephone. In other words, kids have a tool with them at all times. Is it realistic to think that given the accessibility and portability of the smartphone, you would almost expect an increase in online production?

Well there has been, but not quite in an educational context.  Perhaps it’s time we start teaching our students to use their expensive mini tools for more than posting pictures, commenting on memes, and watching videos.

If we can ever dream of getting them there, we need to grant them access to their devices.  We need to utilize this tool a little better, rather than stacking all cellphones in a neat little box at the front of the class. It would be like watching swimming videos and expecting the student to know how to swim, without ever entering the water.

And we’re going to need to change our teaching methods to get there. Because if we use the same old strategies, we’re trying to make a square fit into a circle, and we all know how that turns out. We need to rethink how we’re asking our students to communicate their learning, and in a way that’s more meaningful to them. Because that phone – it’s pretty much “their world” and it needs to be relevant. We’re trying to connect to their everyday lives.

We can’t expect them to type countess essays, but we can ask them to build a portfolio of their learning inside and outside of the classroom. They can collect artifacts of their learning, share them, reflect on them, discuss them.

There are countless applications accessible on smartphones that support mobile learning. WordPress, cloud computing (OneDrive and Google Drive), Evernote/OneNote, and ePortfolio applications are a few examples of tools available to communicate learning, but many more exist.

Financially, we should be using this to our advantage, since cellular telephones are of not cost to school boards, other than granting these tools access to WiFi. What about the students that don’t have a mobile device? We already grant access to technology in the form of computer labs, laptop carts, tablet trays, etc… A lending system can be put in place to fill the gaps. If we’re expecting our students to be creative, so can we.

Furthermore, as the phone belongs to the learner, the student has more control of the tools they use to communicate their learning. This requires flexibility on the teacher’s part, but compromises can be made, guidelines can be established. After all, mobile learning needs to work for everyone.

Or we can play it safe – and there’s nothing wrong with that; you’re granting access to information from anywhere. Most LMS systems such as Blackboard and D2L have applications for both Android and iPhones, improving e-learning by eliminating geographical restrictions.

Whatever method you chose, let’s make the most of the tools students have at their disposal, and reconsider the manner in which our students will communicate their learning to benefit the learner. After all, we’re preparing them to contribute to a society in which technology plays a greater and greater role. Let’s get them thinking, actively contributing, and developing into responsible digital citizens.

Don’t know where to start? Here are a list of sites that can help you in the transition:

Using Smartphones in the Classroom

How to Use Cell Phones as Learning Tools

44 Ways to Use Smartphones in Class

Smartphones: From Toy to Tool


Multitasking: The Illusion of Efficiency

Picture this scene.  After having braved the northern highways in a winter storm for two hours, I had just settled into my hotel room. It was homework time, but I also needed to finish a presentation for the next morning. I settled on the bed with my Chromebook on my lap, turned on the television to find the hockey game. Time to start the tasks at hand.

I open the university’s LMS system and begin to read the instructions to the week’s activities. “Maybe I should find some music” I start to think. As I mute the hockey game, I proceed to find a station on the Spotify app on my phone. Perfect. I can see the hockey game over my computer screen, I have music, all is well. Back to the computer.

As I peer at my screen, I am reminded of the fact that I haven’t checked Twitter and start following the #edchat hashtag. A few tweets later, I return to the course schedule where I begin my readings. As I read, I open new tabs on my browser, all of which are Padlet walls in which I’m jotting down blogging ideas. All the while, I occasionally glance at the presentation tab and remind myself that I need to get to that. My brain is in absolute overdrive.

Some call it multitasking. I’m not sure, but I know that I’m distracted. And I’m not convinced that I’m doing anything right. I can do better, if I could only FOCUS. In fact, approximately 5% of the population can effectively multitask, and I’m convinced that I may not be one of them; however, I do know that technology is feeding the distraction.

The 21st century learner: the multitasker?

We’ve been concerned with our students’ rewired brain since Prensky coined the term “digital native” and suggested that the students in our classrooms are natural multitaskers. Perhaps. Other studies are revealing what some teachers already suspected. Our students aren’t multitasking; in fact, they are switching tasks, or becoming distracted. Is it the same?

When I get bored, lose engagement, or tire of working on the same task, I consciously shift my attention to something else. I “take a break” from it. Other times, I become distracted by an idea, instinctively begin to think of another task, and find myself opening another tab on my computer. It’s a cycle. I’m multitasking because I’m distracted, and because I’m so used to multitasking, I’m more easily distracted. It makes me more sensitive to stimuli.

What’s going on with our students? Much of the same.

What does that mean for learning? Research indicates that multitasking  can lead to a decrease in information retention, therefore resulting in lower grade performance. This seems pretty obvious when we talk about certain types of multitasking, such as texting, but it is in fact applicable in most situations. Multitasking in general seems to require more effort than single tasks, in addition to requiring more time. According to Kirschner and Van Merriënboer (2013), they are actually dividing their attention rather than shifting it.

This doesn’t sound like effective learning.

We can’t deny that cellphones and other technological tools are indispensable in the 21st century classroom, so what do we do? We can’t ban them. So how do we need to teach students to use technology responsibly?

Dealing with distracted learning

1. Students need to understand that multitasking isn’t efficient. They need to see this.

One way to help them come to the conclusion is by having them complete a few multitasking tests. The data will speak for itself. Here are a few online tests that you can use:

Gatekeeper Task for Supertaskers

National Geographic Test

Awareness Test

 2. Use distraction to benefit learning. Students can access multiple types and sources of information while staying on task. Multiple processes can be working together to solve a problem, to answer a question, to construct a informed reflection. This is particularly applicable to inquiry-based learning.

3. Teach and encourage self regulation in the classroom. First off, activities much be engaging for the student if we expect students to invest their efforts. Students must learn to set goals, plan according to these goals, employ the right strategies to access the necessary resources, all the while focusing on the task at hand. This requires an array of skills.

You can find an assortment of activities and information on self regulation at the following site.

4. Disconnecting. It is important that students learn in a variety of situations. Though applications and sites can mimic different settings, nothing beats experiencing the real deal. Face-to-face discussion and hands on experiences need to take place to make a balanced learner. Besides, students need a break from the stimuli to think about their learning.

Students will distract themselves whether there is technology in front of them or not. I distinctly recall passing notes, colouring my handouts, and dreaming up scenarios in many of my classes. Perhaps if I had a cellphone, I would have been more productive.

We aren’t quite winning this game, unfortunately. Evidence of this is the number of teachers that ban cellphones in their classrooms, and that isn’t going to solve the problem. If we truly want to prepare our students for the future, we want the student that graduates to know how to handle these environments.