Anyone who expects magic to happen simply by giving children shiny slabs of aluminium and glass needs their head seeing to. Yet often enough this is precisely what happens: mobile devices are time and again rolled out to unsuspecting children without a clear vision or rationale for their use and purpose.
To avoid this, I often suggest that the first question we should ask ought to be: so when everyone has mobile devices, what will we do with them?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you might think. Especially if we are dealing with tablets, many of us might be tempted to assume that the sheer scale of choice of apps will provide teachers and students with an infinite smorgasbord of teaching and learning opportunities, helping us to conjure up the biggest and most coveted C in education – Creativity – from our jaded, decade-old schemes of work.
In reality, though there are some very laudable exceptions, it doesn’t take long for most of us to realise that most apps are actually terrible or, at the very least, ill-suited to classroom use and that, to much dismay, it turns out there is no app for good teaching .
So, if the apps are only a small part of the answer, what are we to do? Should we send all those iPads back? Well, not quite yet. Let me first refer you to a no less important C in education: Content. It turns out that, regardless of how you feel knowledge is best acquired, kids still need to learn stuff, and that this happens best when teachers have a deep understanding of how students interact with the content they deliver.
These interactions can look very different to what we experienced at school, whether you approve of it or not. Books are no longer exclusively housed buildings made of brick and mortar. Though you can stroll to the newsagents to buy a newspaper, these days you can just read it on your tablet. If you need to learn how to tie a Merovingian knot, you look it up on YouTube. In short, content, which is the seed of knowledge, now comes to us by the cart load, and we need to cultivate it using the appropriate tools.
This is why, without eschewing more traditional forms of content delivery, we believe it is important to offer students in a 1-to-1 environment (where everyone has a mobile device) the opportunity to learn using all the means available to them, and that means digital as well.
Digital Learning Spaces
Below is a short two-minute video that illustrates how these Digital Learning Spaces (built on a multisite WordPress installation) are being used and for what purpose at Surbiton High School, with a focus on the materials made available by the English Department. Watch it and then keep reading:
So, going back to our original question what should we do with them? Well then, you could consider using mobile devices to deliver course content; to foster independent learning; to deliver feedback; to provide both extension and support; to showcase pupils’ work; to be a reflection and peer assessment tool; to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning; to develop a greater understanding of digital citizenship; to disassociate learning from having to be done at particular time and a particular place; to encourage collaborative practices; to raise the profile of subjects and departments; and even to gather and record evidence of learning and progress over a period of time. Well, that’s at least the start of an answer.