An Explosion of WMDs: Wireless Mobile Devices


Yesterday I mentioned that I was reading Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn by Larry Rosen.  As I previously wrote its a great book, but one of the chapters has particularly captured my attention and with the giant lines forming this morning at every suburban mall’s Apple Store it seemed appropriate to write a little about it.  The third chapter of Rewired, “An Explosion of WMDs: Wireless Mobile Devices” discusses the iGeneration and their connection intertwined existence with mobile technology.  Here are a couple of statistics from the chapter to frame your thoughts:

According to a 2008 Harris Interactive national study of more than 2000 teens, 57 percent reported that their cell phone is key to their social life and nearly half admitted that their social life would end or be much worse without their phone.

31% of iPhone owners are ages 15-24 and 46% of iTouch users are under 18

10% of 4-8 year olds, 51% of 9-12 year olds, 81% of 13-15 year olds, and 92% of 16-18 year olds have their own cell phones

The average American teen sends 2,899 text messages each month, but places only 191 cell phone calls

Using these statistics and others (get the book) Rosen talks about the iGeneration as the “connected class” who need to be educated in a different way than previous generations – they “need something more attuned to their daily lifestyles – connected and often virtual.”  With the iGeneration’s strong desire to integrate and use mobile technology in every segment of their life it only makes sense to take a look at moblie learning or “mLearning.”  Rosen describes mLearing as being delivered through mobile virtual learning environments (MVLEs) that are centered around two notions – “learning can happen outside of the traditional classroom” and “the center of this learning involves electronic communication tools.”  MVLEs are adaptable to different types of technology and can vary in complexity, however effective models share the following characteristics.

  1. Engaging Environments – Stimulating environment that are adaptable to different platforms. For example a lesson might work in MySpace, Facebook, or Second Life.
  2. Environmental Flexibility – Can use any available technology
  3. Relevant Learning Strategies – Will make use of multiple research-based instructional strategies so that students can choose the strategy and resource that works best for them.
  4. Material Interactivity – Students can interact with the material and add more through Googling or contributing to a wiki.
  5. Human Interactivity – The tool allows for synchronous and asynchronous communication, while also allowing for the ability to multitask (Rosen provides quite a bit of research throughout the book on the iGeneration’s need to multitask).
  6. Student-Centered – The responsibility for learning belongs to the student rather than the teacher.  The teacher makes information available and monitors progress.  For a particular concept a MVLE might have multiple resources tailored to different learning modalities and students choose the most appropriate one for them.
  7. Collaborative – Students use the technology to work on collaborative projects.
  8. Creative – Students have the ability to create content to demonstrate learning.
  9. Available 24/7 – The information, content, and connectedness is constantly available to learners.

Rosen continues the chapter by talking about some of the research and theories for why mLearning promotes student learning.  Essentially the information boils down to four main areas – the power of multimedia learning, the effect of student-centered teaching, the idea that students often feel more comfortable and willing to express ideas in virtual worlds when compared to real world classroom settings, and the positive reinforcement that develops from anytime, student-centered social learning.

As I have thought a little more about this chapter I’m trying to imagine how I would put Rosen’s ideas into practice in my own classroom.  The more I think about it I keep coming back to some essential ideas about learning platforms, learning tools, and lesson structure.  Using Rosen’s ideas I believe teachers, especially at the secondary level, could invert the notion of homework and schoolwork.  Currently in many most classrooms, students sit for 50 minutes and passively receive information.  If you don’t believe me, visit any high school and just simply look for all the kids drooling on the desks or not-so-secretly text messaging.  After school they work on homework where they might be doing the only active learning for a particular subject.  In the days before the Internet, when students often had access to only one content-area expert, the teacher, this format might have made sense.  Does it today?  Could we leverage technology to make classroom time more productive?  Reflecting on my own teaching experiences, I remember that my face-to-face time with students was precious and there never seemed to be enough of it.  If I never had to use this time to pass on key content information through lectures I would have been able to use the time for active, face-to-face learning including hands-on science explorations, in-depth classroom conversations, debates, Socratic seminars, and differentiated guided practice.

By making use of mobile technologies a teacher could reverse the current homework/school work structure and make the 50 minutes of classroom time more effective than just 50 minutes of passive learning.  For example rather than lecturing a teacher could provide video podcasts using a product like Ustream or Profcast.  Students could consume these at home via laptops, cell phones, iPod Touches, or even an iPad to prepare for the conversation in class the next day.  Similarly the teacher could also provide links to websites or virtual manipulatives to prepare for the next day’s lesson and students would choose the lesson content format (video, audio, pictures, virtual manipulatives, etc.) that worked best for their learning style.  Through the use a learning management system like Moodle or a social network, such as Ning or Elgg, the teacher could place all of the content in one location, while also providing areas for students to have online discussions and contribute additional resources to the overall lesson. Resources including blogs, wikis, and Google Docs could be pulled in as needed based on the type of lesson assignment.  Currently, we don’t have all of these structures in place and for most teachers there will definitely need to be some on-going coaching and professional learning on how to use these resources effectively.  However, mobile devices do provide an opportunity to reach out and engage students while also making more efficient use of classroom time.

I’m interested to read a little more of Rosen’s work…and re-reviewing Liz Kolb’s book Toys to Tools – Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education, along with her blog.  Hopefully, next year I will have the opportunity to work directly with a teacher or two (hint, hint volunteers anyone) to explore and develop mLearning with some real, live students.


Photo: iPods & Students by Krossbow on Flickr

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