Manners Maketh Mobile

This week I spoke at my institution’s Centre for Education and Innovation Open Seminar (#CEIOS) series. The umbrella title of the seminar was Adding a Mobile and Interactive Aspect to your Teaching and Learning, something that in 2018 seems to be as contentious a topic as it was a decade ago. My presentation was called Please Destroy Cellphones Before Entering, and the thinking behind it was ignited by a sign I’d seen blu-tacked to the front of a lecture theatre, where I was asked to show a group of undergraduate students how to access a wiki activity on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. Sadly, I had to inform the group that I couldn’t run the session as planned because of the poster*. Though, because of the size, (A4), only the lecturer and eagle-eyed members of the front row could read it: 

Please Destroy Cell Phones Before Entering

The presentation looked at the very black and white state of mobile device use in higher education. There is a ‘mobile devices in the classroom’ continuum with academics firmly rooted at opposite ends, but with very few in between. So there’s either a laissez faire attitude – let them bring in their smartphones, let them text one another, let them use Snapchat, let them use Instagram, and if they fail their assignment / course, that’s their problem (this is the end of the spectrum I admit to being closest to), or, as with the poster I saw in the lecture theatre, there’s an outright ban of mobile devices. This is usually because teachers feel that students’ attention should be focused solely on them – a reasonable enough expectation, but if you are wondering why your students are plasying around on Pinterest and not focussing on you, maybe you need to make your lectures more interesting and / or interactive? Or maybe, even if they ARE interesting and you ARE the best teacher in the world, maybe even the most captive mind isn’t going to be able to handle 3 hours of being talked at? 

Leaving contentious statements to one side, I argued that there needs to be a middle ground; a compromise. And while it’s true that research has proved that students who use mobile devices in lessons do not do as well as students who don’t, (see the presentation at the end of this post for more information), there is a need to consider the following: 

  • Banning mobile devices in 2018 is tantamount to cutting off somebody’s hands and / or forcing them to travel back in time 
  • Higher Education students are adults so by banning mobile devices, it could be suggested that we are treating them as children?  And if we treat students as children, will they respond by acting like children? 
  • A smartphone or tablet has an incredible amount of potential as a learning tool. So if you catch your student playing with their phone, is it unfair to assume they’re frittering time away on a social network, because they may be searching the internet for further information around something you mentioned that really hooked them? 

At the end of the presentation, I invited the audience – a mix of learning technologists and lecturers – to take the first step in drawing up a list of ‘Mobile Manners’; suggestions for how a compromise can be made so that mobile devices can be allowed and used in sessions, but without the current all or nothing approach.  Here’s what we came up with: 

  • Remind students that this isn’t a social space – it’s a learning space 
  • Be present: agree. Perhaps, on a Service Level Agreement with students at the start of a programme of study. For example: emails can only be checked at break times, important calls can be taken when needed, but devices must be on vibrate, etc. 
  • Give an informal breakdown of what the session is about: ‘I’ll talk for ten minutes – and I really need you to listen to this, then we’ll have a Mentimeter survey, followed by a group task for about 20 minutes, then another ten minutes of talking – again, I’d its important, so I want you to listen and make notes, then we’ll have a break where you can check your social networks / email / WhatsApp messages…”. This may be especially useful for cohorts of younger students 

Something that we kept coming back to was what could still be an elephant in many staff rooms: if lectures / taught sessions were more engaging, less ‘chalk and talk’, and there were more opportunities for student interaction, then maybe students wouldn’t be so quick to reach for their smartphones. Could lectures be shorter, perhaps? Could they be designed to be more interactive, with more opportunities for audience participation? 

I’m keen to see this list of ‘Mobile Manners’ take shape and become more definitive, so please comment below with any suggestions you have. Thank you in advance.

 

 *I did run the session – I was just trying to be funny. And, as usual, failed abysmally… 

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BYOD (Bring Your Own Disprin)

My job means I get to play around all day with a nice mix of technology and education.  It means that I need to know about lots of emerging and developing technologies, theories, ways of teaching and learning, hardware, software…and so on, and it also means that I need to be (seen as) positive and optimistic about all things digital, which I always try to be.  And yet, when I stumbled across this post on the JISC RSC Wales blog yesterday, it made me feel as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders:

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Click image to access post

For a number of years now, teaching and learning with mobile devices-now referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD-Because Education Needs Acronyms) has been a constant theme.  It has also been something I have willfully ignored, because BYOD has always felt to me like a massive and incredibly knotty topic as well as a way of working that sounds both time consuming and tricky to manage.  Past experience has taught me that the IT infrastructure (well, the internet) in most institutions isn’t quite ‘fat’ enough or fast enough to deal with the volume of data pinging back and forth. Teachers have to find a way to get students with a massive range of skills levels to do the same thing on a variety of devices working on a variety of operating systems.  And this opens up a veritable shed full of possible problems.

What if, for example, using an all singing and dancing app sounds fine in theory…but it isn’t available on all operating systems (Microsoft, I’m looking at you)?

What if the WiFi signal is weak or keeps dropping out? What if your students are having trouble connecting their device to the Internet? I did a demo for a browser based quiz (using Kahoot) with a group of PGCE sessions recently, thinking that bypassing branded apps and sticking to the one thing all mobile devices have-the internet-would keep things quick and simple.  What I thought would take no more than 10 minutes took closer to 30 because, despite the wealth of mobile devices present in the classroom, half the class just couldn’t get their devices to connect to the WiFi. We got there in the end, but were I being observed I would have received a right talking to at the end of the session.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to assume that everyone can use every aspect of their device, from Internet settings to film editing apps, but usually the truth is quite different.  Owners with the smartest of gadget will likely admit to only using it for phone calls / text messages / Facebook / taking photos. So assuming that all students can use their gadgets to the full is blinkered, naive, and possibly arrogant. Actually, assuming that all teachers have more than a working knowledge of how all mobile devices work is really asking the impossible.  Because surely for an activity to work, this has to be the case doesn’t it?

And what if there are more students than devices? It may be good to have a spare iPad available to give to someone without their own tablet…but if they have no tablet, they probably have even less idea how to use the shiny and slightly scary tablet the lecturer has proudly put in front of you than those mentioned above. And do students want to be picked out by their tutor and peers, for whatever reason, as ‘the one who still hasn’t got a smartphone’?

Equality of access is more than ensuring that everyone has a device in front of them. Students with physical and special learning needs make deployment of the right devices and software vital…and more complicated.  There can be accessibility issues beyond connection speed too.  ‘Blackboard’ can be accessed through a browser, but is an incredibly frustrating site to use on a device with a screen as large as an iPad, so must be hellish on a BlackBerry.  It can also be accessed via an app, but only on an Apple or Android-powered device, so is no good for people using Microsoft devices. And bingo!  We have an inequality of service issue.

So I completely and utterly understand why teachers don’t bother. And I know that I should slap on my positive face and try to convince them that this is how (someone) has decided our students will learn BEST from now on, so get on board because you don’t want to get a reputation as an educational dinosaur. And if the shed full of problems wasn’t there, I would.

I don’t want to be seen as a Luddite, and there are some common sense approaches to BYOD mentioned in the following articles, so I’ll finish up by linking to these, thereby leaving on a more positive note.

UFI Charitable Trust: Primer on Bring Your Own Device – 7 reasons to leave them to their own devices (advocates letting students use their own devices in ways that suit them as a means of learning rather than trying to deliver lessons with prescriptive ‘you need a mobile device, this app and a working knowledge of network troubleshooting t0o do this’ content.

Donald Clark: Keep on taking the tablets – 7 reasons why this is lousy advice (there must be something magical about the number 7!  Quite liking the author’s conclusion:  “I’m not against the use of tablets in schools, I just think that turning it into a ‘movement’ is a mistake and that too many of these projects are poorly planned, badly procured and lack proper evaluation.”)