MOBILE LEARNING PIONEERS: "You Gave Them a What?"
Starting in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District, in a small, rural town in upstate New York, put HTC 6800 smartphones in the hands of about 200 fifth- and seventh-grade students and 20 teachers (including special education support teachers) in three schools. We had felt that it was too risky to give students access to cell phones and texting with all of the problems associated with them, but when Verizon Wireless said they could turn off the voice and texting capabilities of the devices, we jumped at the opportunity to do a pilot study. They are indeed a motivator: While the students already use the smartphones for 35 to 50 percent of the school day, they ask their teachers to use them still more often.
Experiences with MLDs
In addition to seeing an overall increase in time on task as a result of using the MLDs, we've noticed that reluctant writers write more using Mobile Word and that students find using Mobile Excel for science a breeze. Now that students have the ability to access information from the palms of their hands, student-to-student conversation has increased. When problems arise, the students ask each other, not the teacher. And students are becoming more self-directed learners, since their lessons are all on their MLD. They know what their learning tasks are.
The key lesson we have learned this year is that whereas students are not the least bit reluctant about the use of cell phones for learning, teachers are far more hesitant. In-service and continued support for curriculum development with the handheld tool in mind is critical for maximizing the benefit of the tool and software. At Watkins Glen, we want to provide students the opportunity to use their imagination that is needed if they are to be successful in the future. We decided that stepping into their world of instant access and communication was a good start. Based on our experiences with the pilot program, we plan on extending the use of MLDs to all students in grades 5-8 across the district during the 2010-2011 school year. We are seeing our students more engaged in their schoolwork, and we are seeing the classrooms shift from being teacher-centered to student-centered. Indeed, we have never seen such changes happen so quickly!
Billie Diane Bauman is an administrator for instruction at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Central School District.