Mobile devices, from smartphones to iPads, are changing the way we work and play, and students are clamoring to use them to learn. If you’re a school leader thinking about embarking on a mobile learning initiative, there’s one thing you need to consider before you even think about devices, curricula and stakeholders.
It’s your mindset.
Carl Hooker knows this first hand. As director of innovation and digital learning in the Eanes Independent School District in Texas, he led the effort to put iPads into the hands of all of the district’s K-12 students.
One thing the process taught him was how important the attitudes of the various leaders were in the success of the implementation.
“We had two demographically similar middle schools with two very different types of campus leaders,” Hooker says. “One leader was totally on board with mobile learning and told the staff that this was the direction the school would be taking. The other school leader was skeptical about mobile learning and left the decision to pursue the concept up to the individual teachers. Everything about these schools except the leaders was the same, but we saw huge differences in use and expectations.”
Here’s are five ways district leaders can ensure success when making the leap to mobile learning:
Remember the mantra — it's not about devices. Don’t focus all of your attention, time and energy on choosing the device. Focus instead on how you’re going to deliver continuous professional learning to your staff, get parent feedback and address their concerns, and ensure student comfort with the devices.
Share the experience. Once you decide to go mobile, try to experience what students do. “One of the best things I ever did was become a student for a day,” Hooker says. “I dressed up like a student and walked around to see what the students do on a daily basis.”
Model what you want teachers and students to do. Too often, administrators will make decisions without understanding the impact or seeing the outcome. Start simple, Hooker advises. Carry around the same device students and teachers are using. Bring it to meetings to take notes, use it to capture images of learning throughout the building, and use it to share those learning experiences on social media. That shows people in the organization that you are in this with them, and capturing the mobile learning experiences with your device allows you to document and share the process.
Learn with the devices. Use mobile devices for your own learning and make sure your teachers do, too. When it comes to effective use of technology for learning, the teacher holds the keys to making it a meaningful experience. Shifting from the teacher-centered "fountain of information" to a student-centered, inquiry-based approach, leads to better collaboration, deeper learning and higher engagement.
Hold yourself accountable. The job doesn’t end when the devices are passed out. You have to make sure mobile devices are personalizing learning for students. “This requires leadership to have big ears, big eyes and a small mouth,” Hooker says. “In other words, take it all in and adjust it as you go.” If your classrooms look exactly as they did 20 years ago, only with mobile devices instead of textbooks, it's time to re-adjust.
Ultimately, Hooker says, the key to a mobile learn mindset is comfort with risk-taking. “Students take risks only when teachers take risks,” Hooker says. “But many teachers are only willing to take risks when their leadership is also taking risks.”