Feb 06 2014

TCEA 2014: Preparing Schools for Mobile Learning Success

A prominent Louisiana-based IT leader breaks down what mobility means for K–12 environments.

Mobile learning is front of mind for many of the educators attending the Texas Computer Education Association’s 2014 convention and exposition this week in Austin — and not simply because Wednesday, Feb. 5, was Digital Learning Day and the date on which Project Tomorrow released Speak Up 2013 findings for the nearly 403,300 education stakeholders who participated in the annual survey.

Preliminary data from the 2013 research show that 53 percent of students in grades 6 through 12 want to be able to use their smartphones, tablets and notebook computers at school for educational purposes. Educators are equally excited about how mobile devices can reshape the teaching and learning process, with 58 percent of teachers and librarians viewing such devices as a good way to personalize learning and 55 percent of them already using the technology to extend learning for their students beyond the school day.

TCEA 2014 organizers responded accordingly, dedicating one of the conference’s 15 educational session tracks to mobile technology.

One session, led by Sheryl Abshire, Ph.D., chief technology officer for Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La., was loaded with smart advice for district and school leaders who are anxious to leverage mobile technologies to increase student achievement and engagement, communication, and parent and community involvement. Here are some key takeaways from her presentation.

What Does 21st Century Learning Really Mean?

Rote memorization and the mastery of basic skills are no longer enough. To succeed in college and the workplace today, students need to be able to:

  • Solve problems
  • Communicate
  • Adapt to change
  • Work in teams
  • Analyze and conceptualize
  • Reflect on and improve performance
  • Self-manage
  • Create, innovate and critique
  • Engage in learning throughout life

Given the proliferation of mobile devices today, for students “there’s no more ‘I think,’” Abshire told session attendees. “If you ask them something, they’re immediately on their phones and tablets Googling the question. It’s now ‘I know.’”

What’s a CTO or CIO to Do?

Teachers are no longer “the gatekeeper to the learning,” Abshire continued. To facilitate students’ need for round-the-clock access to information and school resources, district chief technology officers and chief information officers face the following challenges:

  • Providing a safe online learning environment
  • Filtering and protecting content and hardware
  • Enforcing acceptable use policies
  • Protecting privacy
  • Ensuring equality for all students
  • Maintaining network compatibility
  • Supporting a variety of BYOD options

What Makes Mobile Learning Different?

Textbook-driven, “sage on the stage” instruction is no longer regarded as the most effective way to engage and educate students. For the majority of students who own at least one mobile device, information is just a click away. So, too, are distractions.

According to Abshire, mobile learning is spontaneous, personal, informal, contextual, portable, ubiquitous and pervasive. It also is subject to varied and changing locations and offers opportunities for immediate interaction.

“You want to know where the hotspots are in your city? Ask a 15-year-old,” she joked. “They know where all the free Wi-Fi is.”

Most important, she says, when districts commit to going mobile, they must have a vision and a long-term plan for keeping the focus on the learning, rather than the technology. “When you roll out a mobility program, it’s forever,” she said. “You can’t go back. Over time, it evolves.”

What’s more, she said, “you have to know what your outcomes [will be] and measure for them. It’s a lot of money, but it’s also high-stakes learning. If you change your learning model, you’re now accountable for that model and whether it works for the students.”

The bottom line is this, she added: District leaders can’t afford for “students to lose a year of learning” while they figure out what they’re doing.

All Abshire

Want to learn more about Calcasieu Parish Public Schools’ network infrastructure and long-term mobility plans? Download Sheryl Abshire, Ph.D,’s July 2013 testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on the value of the E-Rate program.

For more of Abshire’s insights, check out the following resources:

<p>Credit: tetmc/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos</p>

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