mLearning in Schools

Here’s the presentation my colleague Jason Sharp and I created for our IS 585 Information Technologies class.  Topics covered include:

  • Definition and scope of mLearning
  • Advantages and disadvantages of mLearning
  • Types of technologies and software available on the market
  • Criteria for selecting technologies and software
  • Impact of mLearning on students, teachers, and other stakeholders

Here are some case studies we came across illustrating the impact of mLearning on test scores and student achievement.

After our presentation, we answered some great questions from our audience!  Here is a short summary of the Q&A session.

Q. What about the costs of mLearning?

A. Yes, cost is a big concern.  Adopting a school-wide mLearning initiative not only means purchasing or leasing the devices, but equipping the school with the necessary technical infrastructure (broadband, firewalls, etc.) as well.  Peripherals such as keyboards, styluses, covers, etc. can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.  My school district has gone from “We’ll pay for every student in the county to have their own device!” to “Your school can adopt 1:1 initiative but you’d have to come up with money yourself!” to their current stance of “BYOD” (every child brings their own device).   BYOD, though, assumes that most families can afford devices or cover loss/damage to these devices but that’s not true.  There are families who might not be financially able to provide devices (or Internet) at home, or feel uncomfortable letting their children be responsible for such an expensive item.  If the county leaves it to the schools to fund their own 1:1 initiative, many will simply be unable to do so, even with the help of PTA fundraising efforts, if they were lucky enough to have an active PTA.  These schools will likely fall further behind in terms of technology.  If the school county were to fund every school, this will mean a huge financial strains too, especially in the age of budget cuts and arguably more pressing needs.

My daughters’ school is doing a mixture of both: the PTA has raised enough funds to provide devices and peripherals for most classrooms (though some grades share devices that are wheeled from room to room in charging carts), but students are encouraged to bring their own device. further behind in terms of technology.

Q. Can parents/teachers control what apps are used and which are blocked, and otherwise monitor the appropriate use of mLearning devices?

A. Some devices – iPads, for example – have parental control settings (see that allow teachers to restrict access to various applications or features on the devices.  For example, one might wish to block the use of the camera or Facetime during class time, and students shouldn’t be allowed to download, install, or delete apps or make purchases within apps or in the iTunes or iBooks stores.  One can also restrict access to specific content types such as movies, TV shows, or particular web sites.  Students should not be allowed to make changes to account and privacy settings. Schools might also have existing firewalls that blocks certain sites to be accessed by students/teachers.

Obviously, whenever one gives a student access to technology (especially one whose mobile nature makes its use hard to monitor), a discussion on digital citizenship and responsible use needs to take place.  Giving students mLearning devices provide an opportunity for them to practice using technology responsibly, safely, and appropriately.  Parents/teachers and students should clearly lay out expectations and consequences for inappropriate use.

Q. Do studies really show improvement in test scores and student performance/achievement when using mLearning?

A. There have been studies that show how mLearning improves not only test scores, student achievement, but also their motivation and level of engagement when learning.  That said, there are also studies that show otherwise.  The effectiveness of mLearning seems to depend largely upon the software/app and its content (whether it is designed “just to entertain”, or whether it actually supports learning standards), the teachers and how he/she is using it (as a glorified workbook?  as a babysitter? as an enrichment tool? or as a tool that truly differentiates and customizes learning?), and the learner him/herself (the Khan Academy study, for example, showed that students who were already excelling in school thrived after they started using the Khan app, but those who were already struggling did not show improvement at all).  It is vital when rolling out mLearning that the district provides ample professional development/training and provide opportunities where teachers can collaborate with each other to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Q. I am a student who hates math, science, or [fill in the blank].  How is mLearning going to help?

A. The beauty of mLearning is that it affords the student a choice in HOW they want to learn something, the pace at which they want to learn, and under the teacher’s guidance (particularly for younger students), even WHAT they want to learn. For example, instead of having students do worksheet after worksheet so they can learn their math facts, teachers can let reluctant learners use game apps like Sushi Monster.  My daughter learned how to count change using Cash Cow and she didn’t even realize it, but when I pointed out that she, in fact, knew her coins and their values, her confidence in the topic shot up.  mLearning — when used properly — can do wonders in improving student’s level of engagement and motivation. Students might moan and groan when they “have to” study history (which might not seem to have any relevance to them), but if they are using those facts to compete with someone (who could be in another state or in a different country!) in an app such as Social Studies Friendzy, they might be more motivated to learn them.  mLearning makes learning fun and less dry, and once students gain confidence and motivation, they might take their learning a step further, perhaps to generate their own learning goals outside the classroom.

Q. Are teachers still necessary?

A. Of course!  Similar to why librarians will always be needed in this increasingly technology-driven world, just because the knowledge is out there, it doesn’t mean that students will know what they need or how to find it.  And as we mentioned in the presentation, even though mLearning shifts a teacher’s role to that of facilitator in higher learning, and shifts the emphasis from one-sided knowledge “communication” to knowledge “sharing” (where students take a bigger part), certain forms of knowledge are not accessible — especially to younger students — without a formal pedagogic process.  Teachers are necessary in bridging the students’ existing knowledge to new ones, in building basic, but foundational skills, and in steering students on the right track.  They play an important role in the student’s academic- and lifelong learning — able to correct, direct, and inspire as only teachers can.  Ironically, though interactivity is one of the most frequently cited reasons for mLearning, students surveyed in the Khan Academy study report that while they do learn something from watching Khan videos, they dislike the “one-sided” nature of video lessons.  Instead, both students and teachers prefer the organic discussions and interactivity that are possible in face-to-face sessions.





Small Size, Big Potentail: Mobile Learning Devices in School – COSN_Compendium_MobileLearning.pdf

Interesting article on schools who have adopted mLearning in their classrooms and the impact/implications of being an “early adopter”.

Small Size, Big Potentail: Mobile Learning Devices in School – COSN_Compendium_MobileLearning.pdf.