Saturday, 2 January 2016

What are your experiences of using mobile devices and how has this changed over time? What barriers have you encountered? 
Much of my experience of using mobile devices matches well with the slides by Teresa Bird in the course materials, very little resonates with the commentary in the video by John Traxler.

I would say my experiences of working with mobile devices and technology breaks down into two broad areas - where the mobile devices are used informally, with or without institutional blessing, and where they are used in a formal approach, replacing or augmenting alternative technologies in a school.


A few years ago I was running a "Lego Mindstorms Olympics" event with Bill How in Northampton. Our normal practice at the time was to laboriously video the student's work with camcorders, take the footage to an iMac, and then to publish it to the various schools via our learning platform. At the time this was quite cutting edge, but behind the scenes it was very labour intensive and definitely "for the enthusiast." On this occasion, neither Bill nor I had the time or energy to video and edit footage so we'd decided to focus pretty much on entirely on the day itself and were both I think enjoying it far more for that. The day went well with various teams from across the town competing to build and program their robots to deal with progressively harder problems.

Bill had somehow managed to blag some of the new 3G mobile phones being used by Three in their uk launch. This wasn't unusual, Bill's power as a hunter-gatherer of gadgets were pretty legendary. None of us were particularly blown away by the phones - they had all the usual tools our Nokias had but seemed to be just bigger and heavier - but there were the first phones in the UK to have proper 3G connectivity. Ever the optimist Bill had given the handsets to a couple of groups of students for them to "try" - shorthand I suppose for "well we've got them, we might as well see if they are any good"

Near the end a student who had worked with us before and was very good at his Mindstorms programming, wandered over just after their robot had successfully found its way through our maze in record time, and asked why we hadn't filmed their robot. Slightly embarrassed I explained that we didn't expect to have time to edit any footage so we hadn't recorded it.

So he asked me for my email address and told me "don't worry, I've recorded it, I'll send you a copy for the site.

The video was grainy, the sound was awful but it clearly captured the moment and within 5 minutes we had it uploaded for everyone - and the impact the video had was almost identical to the carefully constructed sequences we'd worked on in iMovie.

But the combination of simple to use + good enough quality + connectivity + portability (pocket ability= ubiquity) is unbeatable.

I haven't used iMovie since.

The problem with informal use of mobile tech in the school sector is it is largely banned. Teachers may well use their own phone or iPad, in many schools students do too, but it has not had the broad acceptance seen in HE (yet).

Some examples:
  • When I taught Science for Year 9 (13 year olds) I frequently asked students to photograph or record experiments because as a department we didn't have a reliable digital camera. Being able to put those photos up on the projector at the start of a lesson (to connect to prior learning) or at the end became a simple routine of classes.
  • Our academy group make use Google Apps a great deal and of course a student can access their account on their own devices just as easily as on the schools. One day whilst visiting an academy a supply teacher called me into a classroom (he assumed I think I was a senior manager at the academy rather than a visitor). The IT suite was having problems and the class were getting impatient, but his focus was on the girl who has insisted on getting out her phone - the supply teacher wanted me to reinforce his instruction to either put the phone away of be disciplined. As I sat next to the student she rolled her eyes and showed me her screen - it was the English essay the class where supposed to be working on - rather than waste time she was starting work using her own connectivity and her own device.
  • Many of our teachers use very simple blogs as tools in the classroom for sharing work, for setting up plenaries or for engaging parents. The method is simple - the blog has an email address for new items and only the teacher can approve new content. Mobile devices become incredibly powerful in those situations (no matter who they belong to) to record video, audio or take images to share with the group.


Increasingly mobile devices are replacing traditional PCs in schools. Although in many ways inferior they are 'good enough' (a little bit like the video example above) and their immediacy and convenience is more than enough  to make them worthwhile - providing the key systems across the school for storing and sharing work are properly thought through (for example making Google Apps available regardless of the device used).

Where they excel is in situations where the device can have an owner. An iPad within the classroom is a superb tool for the teacher, potentially replacing the interactive whiteboard and visualiser as well as providing a camera, internet browser and selection of apps.

Where they are a struggle is where there is an expectation that pupils or students will share the device but somehow need to keep their work on them - they simply are not designed for multi-user situations.

So they excel for example in the Early Years or KS1 classroom where any device can have all the apps required for pupils to dip into as needed, where they can be owned by a particular member of staff and given to students for specific tasks or activities or where resources allow 1 device per student.


This may well be a good moment to refer back to previous blog posts about Salmon's work on an IT Strategy Framework.

She puts forward a four quadrant model where the two axes are core tools vs new tools and core business vs new business.

Getting the core services for IT right to work well with mobile (whoever it belongs to) is very much a core-core quadrant issue. Online storage, access, identity, filtering, access control.

Developing new practice with mobile technology (whoever owns it) has primarily been in the second quadrant up until now (core business, new tools) - but progressively more and more schools are making one kind of mobile device or another a core tool, replacing the traditional PC.

Much of John Traxler's video was concerned with areas that are I suppose in quadrant four (new tools for new business).

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