Before educational leaders can form a plan of how to handle these changes, they first must understand why the change is happening and what is causing it.
Let's start with the notion that there should be a reason behind any change, particularly change as potentially disruptive as the classroom shift to mobile learning. The term "disruptive" carries a negative connotation, particularly in education, but in this case we're talking specifically about changes in the status quo. While such change admittedly carries some negative risk, it's clearly becoming widely accepted that mobile learning offers the opportunity for a great deal of positive reward. Having said that, any big change must first be approached from the standpoint of "why?"
Since the beginning of computer adoption in k-12 classrooms, we have often made the mistake of letting technology decisions drive student learning decisions. What is more, we've handed the lion's share of expertise over to the technologists. This is the natural result of the highly technical and complicated nature of the client-server model and infrastructure adopted by nearly every school. That particular model can't be adopted without a relatively high level of technical expertise, either in-house or through educational support organizations. It's impossible to make good decisions without an understanding of the options presented, and thus over time those decisions have been referred to the "experts" at hand.
Mobile learning offers a tremendous opportunity to reverse that trend, to replace technology with pedagogy in the decision-making process. It offers freedom, confidence, and the reduction of risk to the administrator, but only if the administrator understands both the potential costs and the potential benefits. Fortunately, the complicated web of infrastructure required by computer deployments is greatly reduced in mobile device deployments. This is not to say that you don't need to understand the technology to make decisions, but in mobile devices, the required understanding is more about user interaction and behavior than it is about the infrastructure, and this hands the expertise back to the educator.
Nearly every school administrator is either now or will soon be facing the decision of whether to adopt mobile technologies into the classroom. Before the specifics of that decision (1:1, BYOD, checkout carts, etc) can be reached or even understood, it is first necessary to know why you would even consider it.
If you don't believe there is a need for change, you can end the conversation right here. If you believe that current pedagogy and classroom structure offers the best learning environment possible to your students, then there is no reason to change anything. As a leader of an educational institution, this is your starting point, and if you can't identify a learning environment that would be significantly better for your staff and students, there is no reason to proceed.
So, is there a learning environment that would be significantly better for your students? If you could design such a learning environment, what would it look like? What positive pedagogic changes would you want to see, regardless of the technology available? Would you consider the following to be worthwhile goals, assuming they were possible?
- Increase student access to curricular materials outside of the classroom.
- Increase communication opportunities between students, teachers with students and parents, and people outside of the classroom or school.
- Reduce the number of institutional obstacles in the use of technology (logon times, accounts and passwords, software deployment, device management and security).
- Increase student engagement.
- Increase opportunities for differentiated learning.
- Increase a feeling of student ownership in their education.
- Increase opportunities for collaborative learning.
- Increased use of digital assessments leading to instant data and feedback.
You might see these possibilities as a mere sales technique for mobile technologies, and if you are skeptical about the promises, you should be. That's why you are in a leadership position, you get paid to be skeptical about such ideas. Let me point out that NO technology exists that will create these changes. All that mobile technologies themselves can offer is the opportunity to make such changes. The changes we're talking about are changes in philosophy, in pedagogy, in assessment, and in classroom and student management. These things can only happen through action by leadership at each level, including the superintendent, the building administrator, the classroom teacher, and the natural student leaders.
Furthermore, most of these potential benefits can also be viewed as challenges. For example, increased communication opportunities can mean increased distraction, inappropriate communication or behavior, etc. This drives home the point; any new technology only offers opportunity, it does not in and of itself create positive change. Implementing the technology is only the first step, you must also be prepared to manage the change on the user, curricular, and administrative level. This necessitates making many further decisions, as well as the implementation of a plan that affords leaders the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen consequences.
While it's always a good idea to base decisions on solid research data when it's available, we all know that we have to make many decisions for which such data is not available. While there are some early numbers that look promising in the area of mobile learning, there simply has not been enough time to collect meaningful data. And even if there were, you have to ask yourself if you should be looking for how a specific technology affects those numbers, or if you should rather be looking for how changes in pedagogy (perhaps made possible by the adopted technology) affected the outcome.
Most professionals in education would agree, real change is going to happen, many would say it is already happening. If you consider the "why" to already be answered and you believe the "what" to be mobile technologies and the potential of mobile learning, then we're left with "how?", and that is the hardest part.