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How Mobile-Friendly is Your Classroom?

For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  These “core” subject areas of curriculum have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century.  These subject areas were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare the youth for success in college and the workplace.  The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factory model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.

While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can now easily be searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and Math have given way to STEM.  Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach. 

As these changes collide in a classroom that now welcome mobile devices, the modern teacher needs to think about how this affects change in their classroom in multiple areas. In Book #4 of the Mobile Learning Mindset, I represent this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).

The four areas of the MLQ are Content, Space, Interaction and Time.  Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:

Content

While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Still, at the beginning, mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.

Space

The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. Obviously the word “mobile” applies to much more than just devices.  However, in many classrooms this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks. The mobile learning environment should contain flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online.  It doesn’t always have to be an expensive new modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore.  Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.

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A sneak peak at our new Incubator room at Westlake High School. Purposeful and mobile furniture.

Interaction

With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction amongst students.  When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, in the classrooms where the space was static, there was little to know interaction between student to student.  In fact, most of the interaction was uni-directional (teacher to student).  However, in the classrooms with more flexible space and student created content, interaction becomes much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.

Time

All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices.  While mobile devices make them all much more possible and dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set-time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology.  Remember only a couple of decades ago when in order to watch the next great episode of the Facts of Life, it meant that you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. In our schools you could apply that same rule to the class schedule.  If you are the type of person that learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.

Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.

Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…        

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My infographic on the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ)

Editor’s note: This post is based on the book series Mobile Learning Mindset.  This 6-book series explores how each key stakeholder can best support a mobile learning initiative.  The first two books are already out and can be purchased here.  Books 3 (focused on coaches and professional learning) and book 4 (focused on the teacher and classroom environment) are set to be published at the end of September.

   

Digital Parenting 101: An iTunesU Course For Parents

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Digital Parenting iTunesU course

Part of having any type of success in a school is to have the support of parents.  While some schools can overcome a lack of parent involvement or support, most depend on the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  The same is true of any successful mobile device initiative.  I’ve had over 50 talks/discussions/trainings with community members and parents in our district since the launch of the LEAP iPad Initiative in Fall of 2011, and that’s still not enough.

We’ve hosted panels of parents discussing their concerns and values with technology use.  We’ve brought in experts on cyber-bullying and internet safety.  We’ve even had back-to-school nights where we’ve invited parents to see and use the device as a child in the classroom would.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and lately, many parents are looking for more and more materials on what to avoid online, what to turn off and restrict, and how to help “stay ahead” of their kids digitally.  The hard truth is parents will never be able to stay ahead of their kids digitally.  Kids have more time and much less responsibility on their hands which means they can spend their free time trying to figure out ways to “game” the system and push limits.

As parents, our job has never been so important, but at the same time, so challenging.  We must now manage the lives of our actual kids and the virtual life they portray online.  One of my darkest moments during our 1:1 initiative was also one of my finest hours.  Following a highly attended parent orientation, I was encircled by about a dozen angry parents asking why we were “doing this to them.”  In their worlds, they (thought) they had control over screen-time, online behavior, obsessive gaming, etc.  Now the district has placed a device in the hand of every student and completely disrupted that well-maintained home life.

As the parents pointed their fingers angrily and voiced their frustrations over this disruption…a strange smile crept over my face.

“HOW CAN YOU BE SMILING?!?” they shouted.

My answer was simple, “I’m actually happy we are having this discussion right here, right now, when we can all do something about it.” I calmly stated. “In a few years, when your child has left for college, there is nothing I can do to help them with their digital lives.  But because they all have devices from our district, we can now join forces with parents to better educate our students.  After all, we aren’t raising children.  We are raising adults.”

Flash-forward a couple of years to this past spring.  While parent turn-out at “Digital Parent nights” and various other events were good, we were still missing a large chunk of parents who couldn’t attend due to their own schedule.  We decided to LiveStream several of these events, which helped with exposure, but I wasn’t sure we were really reaching those parents struggling to “keep up” with their kids.

After much bantering on my part, I finally decided to blackmail myself and set a date by which parents could sign up and be a part of an online course for digital parenting.  Publishing that date and sign up forced me to create the course, hence “blackmailing myself.”

I created the course in iTunesU and did so for a couple of reasons:

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1. iTunesU is super-easy to manage.  The only time consuming part is gathering content and resources.

2. I wanted the parents to use their student’s iPad if possible to take the course. This helped model some of the educational expectations of the device at home.

So, on February 17th, I launched a 6-week iTunesU course titled: Digital Parenting 101.  I broke the course into 6 sections and rolled out content each week to parents that were enrolled in the course (I ended up with 43 parents enrolled). My sections were broken out into the following categories:

Week 1 – Digital Wellness in the 21st Century

Week 2 – Internet Safety, filters, restrictions & security

Week 3 – Screen time & the Brain

Week 4 – Social Media & Gaming

Week 5 – Guidelines for the Household

Week 6 – Building a Digital Footprint

At the end of each week’s content (designed to take 2-3 hours a week), I gave a brief 10-question quiz to check for understanding.  Parents that scored 80% or higher were emailed a ‘secret code’ that they would use to enter in the final exam to prove they completed each section.   In addition, I used a free platform called Moot.it to create a discussion forum for Q&A and to stimulate some discussion over the weekly topics.

All in all, the course went very well, but still needs some room for improvement.  I’ve asked the “students” in the course to email me feedback and will use that to craft the next course I offer in the fall.

That said, I’ve been asked by several colleagues to share the course with the public.  So, with a little iTunesU magic, I duplicated the course, removed the links to the private forums, and made it public for anyone to use.  I share this backstory and course with you in the hopes that you’ll continue to work with parents on educating them about their children’s digital future.  I also find a course like this strengthens the bond between school and parent in collectively raising their child.

Enjoy!

Eanes ISD Digital Parenting 101: iTunesU Course

Why Your 1:1 Deployment Will Fail

keep-calm-and-prepare-to-fail-1So your district or school is planning or in the process of implementing some sort of 1:1 device initiative.  Seeing as these are all the rage, seems like it’s a given that your deployment will be a smashing success, right?  Here’s the truth….

…it will fail.

It may not be monumental failure, but parts of your deployment will not work.  Whether it be the MDM that manages them or the rising stack of parent concerns, you will be faced with a choice as a district: retreat or carry on.  In the wake of the LAUSD story and the recent Ft. Bend ISD news here in Texas about ‘re-evaluating’ their deployments, I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on why some deployments work and some don’t work.  I’ll let you know that our deployment was far from flawless, as I’ve listed here, but we had tools in place to overcome issues before they became an “Implementation Killer”.

The Importance of Buy-In

A leader trying to make a splash in student learning can sometimes forget one of the most simple steps — community buy-in.  While giving a device can be a transformative learning experience, without some initial buy-in from teacher leaders and community members, it will ultimately fail.  This buy-in is the foundation by which all programs succeed.  Having a strong foundation based on community buy-in means being able to weather the storm of students breaking restrictions or teachers being frustrated by initial classroom distraction.  In our district we held 27 different meetings/presentations to staff and the community to talk about the program and its expectations over the course of the first couple of years.

Going too Fast

Technology changes by the milli-second, so there is a sense of urgency to go from pilot to full-fledged implementation overnight.  This is a natural instinct, especially from those wanting to make sure that all students are on the same model of device.  Unless your district is on the small-side (less than 1000 students), figure on it taking 2-3 years before you have widespread effective implementation.  Can you deploy all the devices in one year?  Sure, but be prepared for multiple fires to put out and for a very basic level of integration of the devices in the classroom.  It’s much easier to focus you attention on smaller scenarios and fan the flames of its success into a larger implementation, rather than just have the equivalent of widespread panic throughout your buildings due to lack of support, direction and successful pilot scenarios.

Focusing on the Device

Being a part of an “iPad 1:1” means there’s immediately a label and focus on the device.  If you make your program centered around the type of device you are getting, be it an android or a Chromebook, and not around the “how and why” you are doing the 1:1, you’ll make your program obsolete before it gets going. Focus your 1:1 on district goals and missions with intentional omission of what type of device you’ll use to achieve this transformative learning.  By NOT focusing on a device, you can be nimble with future implementations and not pigeon-hole yourself into one type of device.  It takes lots of different tools/resources to achieve a higher-level of student-driven learning.

Not Letting Instruction Guide Your Pilot 

Everyone is under a time crunch.  The tech department’s main job is to optimize the way devices are deployed.  This usually means that it’ll be disruptive to the classroom in some form or fashion.   If you base your initial deployment on location, demographics, or ease of rollout on the technology department, you’ll have some serious problems.  Rather than do that, focus your initial pilot on those teams or grade levels that are the most ready and open to change.  Not only will you likely have more successes to share from this group of early adopters, they will also be much more understanding when certain things don’t work. Much like the buy-in comment above, they will also be the ones that ultimately decide whether district-wide expansion is a “Must” or just a “nice to have” for all other grade levels.  Choose this group wisely….

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Drive-by Training

Many districts that deploy a certain device to a group also hire built-in trainers from the company that supplied the device.  While this is better than nothing, this training is usually focused on how to use the device technically with a couple of classroom examples thrown into the mix if you are lucky.  A deeper understanding of classroom integration is needed (and repeated).  This doesn’t happen overnight or over the course of a 2-day training seminar.  Districts wanting to reach those lofty goals of transforming instruction need to think about investing in either continual outsourced training from a trusted company (ideally one not tied to a particular device) or hiring staff full-time to provide just-in-time training throughout the year.  One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed my work with EdTechTeacher is that they are focused on this kind of transformational integration in their workshop offerings to schools that can’t afford a full-time person.  In my district, I’m fortunate enough to have a great team of “iVengers” to provide this, but again, where many districts go wrong is mentality that just dropping the devices into classrooms will make magic happen.  These are a gift with a tail and it’s time we made it a priority to pay for that tail.

Investing in Parents 

Parents can be an X-factor in any deployment.  They can either be supportive or drive your deployment into the ground by strumming up enough negative support.  It’s important to realize that these devices are not only disruptive to learning in the classroom but also to the rules and guidelines set-up in the home.  While many students that take these devices home likely have their own device, supplying a device from the district means that it doesn’t belong to the family and some parents may feel uncomfortable putting rules and restrictions on this device.  It’s imperative that parents have options to control these devices in some format while under their roof.  This can be as simple as not letting little Junior install his own apps or requiring the student complete a list of choirs prior to having the WiFi password for the day.  As painful as it can be at the moment, some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had during our deployment has come from parents not pleased with what we were doing initially.   Giving them the digital tools and reinforcing their ability to “be a parent” go a long way in turning those most ardent critics into supporters of your program.  In many cases, the conversations around digital wellness need to be happening before their child goes off to college.  Your 1:1 deployment just brought that necessity to light so both the school and the parents should take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with students on what’s right or wrong in the digital world.

giftoftimeHave Patience and Give the Gift of Time

If you are spearheading a 1:1 deployment or a teacher on the leading edge of it, you might be frustrated by the lack of others to get on the bus right away.  In order to make the shift to a student-centered instructional model with the device and teacher supporting the learning, it takes time and patience.  In some cases you are dealing with accomplished teachers that have been highly successful with they way they have been teaching for the past 30 some odd years. This new disruption could be an affront to their pedagogical ideals if they weren’t involved in the process (see first point on buy-in).   While you’ll always have early adopters and innovators with a new device, it’s getting the next group on board that will create a tipping point of momentum towards your goals. This group of accomplished teachers makes up about 80% of your staff and for them, they need to see how this technology will not only make their lives easier, but also will make learning more meaningful for students.  In some cases, this may only take one “aha” moment.  In the case of the skeptical teacher it could take months or years to convince them there might be a better way. At any rate, have patience and give staff time together to plan and share their integration strategies.  Giving the gift of time (in our case common-planning periods) for a team of teachers allows them freedom to think and try out new ideas in a safe environment.   Some of the most powerful teaching and learning strategies come from this informal get togethers.  If at all possible, build this time into the schedule of those in your pilot or full deployment.  It’ll be a gift that keeps on giving.

Bottom line – If you follow all this advice, will parts of your deployment still fail?  Yes.  There’s no way to account for every single variable that will come your way on this adventure.  However, if you have invested in these areas before, during and after deployment, you’ll find that your recovery from little failures are not only possible, you’ll become a much stronger team of teachers and learners as a result of it.

Editor’s Note: For those of you that enjoyed this post, please check out its companion post on 7 Ways to Sabotage a Device Initiative posted in Edudemic.