For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, writing, math, science and social studies. These “core” subjects have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century and they were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare youth for success in college and the workplace. The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factor- model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.
While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can be easily searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and math have given way to STEM. Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach.
As these changes collide in classrooms that welcome mobile devices, modern teachers need to think about how this effects change in their classrooms. I explain this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).
The four areas of the MLQ are content, space, interaction and time. Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:.
While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.
The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. The word “mobile” must apply to much more than just devices. But in many classrooms today, this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks.
The mobile learning environment should include flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online. It doesn’t always have to be an expensive modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore. Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.
With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction among students. When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, I discovered that in classrooms where the space was static, there was little or no interaction between students. In fact, most of the interaction was unidirectional (teacher to student). However, in classrooms with more flexible space and student-created content, interaction was much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.
All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices. While mobile devices make them easier and more dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology.
Remember only a couple of decades ago when, in order to watch the next episode of the "Facts of Life" you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. Applied to the classroom of today, if you are the type of person who learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.
Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.
Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…
Carl Hooker is the director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes ISD in Texas where he helped spearhead a mobile learning program that put iPads in the hands of all 8,000 students across the district. He is also the founder of “iPadpalooza” (ipadpalooza.com), a three-day learning festival in celebration of the shift iPads have brought about in education and beyond.