Unesco recognises that mobile devices have massive potential for learning. So what needs to be done?
Chilean academic Miguel Nussbaum puts his finger on a widespread concern about learning with mobile technology: “Everybody is buying tablets and nothing is changing.” And he will kick off the 11th Education Fast Forward (EFF) debate on September 17 (3pm GMT) – “Mobile learning for the masses?”.
This is the first EFF debate as a fully independent organisation (it was created by Promethean with support from Cisco, which continues. It has Unesco as a partner and will feature a range of top international educators, plus two UK educators with significant new books for mobile learning, Professor Angela McFarlane and John Galloway.
The Miguel Nussbaum quote, from John Galloway’s forthcoming book, Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies (Routledge), expresses the concern about the unfulfilled potential of technology in education. Based at the Catholic University of Chile, he is a member of the board of the National Agency for the Quality of Education, and he has had rich experience in this area over a significant period of time through running the Chilean handheld project Eduinnova.
He will lead the debate, hosted by EFF co-founder Gavin Dykes, and will be joined by David Atchoarena, director of the division for policies and lifelong learning systems with Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organisation) which has itself produced more than 15 papers on mobile learning (see below).
EFF chief executive Jim Wynn commented: "I am fascinated by the m-learning debate. I wonder how learning can happen on small smartphone screens or what learning can happen. Is m-learning just a metaphor for looking things up or is there something special about to happen with pedagogy? While a lot of examples I see come from the STEM world, does m-learning have a role in other curriculum areas?
Many questions about mlearning to be answered
"Or is it nothing to do with curricula? Will it stimulate collaboration and communication and help learning become deeper through dialogue? There are so many questions I hope we can get to in this debate, and I also hope we can keep the debate going in the coming months." (See also “New role for ex-head Jim Wynn at Imagine Education” )
In fact the debate, which is conducted over Cisco's high-quality TelePresence network and joined by Tweeters, will be continued. The following day (September 18) the discussion moves over to the stewardship of the Oxford Union on Unesco's WSIS Community Platform until September 26 – visit Oxford Debate on Mobile Learning to register to take part and vote.
Professor Angela McFarlane is chief executive and registrar of the College of Teachers and is a leading authority on using mobile technology for learning and teaching. She has just published a new book dealing with this subject, Authentic Learning for the Digital Generation: Releasing the potential of technology in the classroom (Routledge). A seasoned academic, she wonders in the introduction to her book why so little has changed over the years: "After billions of pounds of investment, endless evaluation and reams of policy documents it seems that the precise role of technology in schools remains unclear...
"After more than 40 years of debate on what effective technology-supported learning and pedagogy should be there are still no simple and clear answers in this complex and nuanced debate. What is clear is that there remains a substantial gap between what effective technology-supported learning and pedagogy could be and what happens in the majority of schools."
(Routledge) is the title of John Galloway's latest book (co-authored with Maureen McTaggart and Merlin John). He comments: "Highly portable technology is just part of a story that could, if we allow it, significantly change our schools. It is a change that is happening anyway, but its benefits may not be fully appreciated in classrooms.
"The internet has brought about a situation where knowledge in schools is no longer the exclusive preserve of the teachers: mobiles have made that knowledge immediately accessible. The education system could embrace this change to allow richer, more engaging, more meaningful learning to happen. The issue is that elements of that system are so deeply entrenched its resistance may significantly limit the impact technologies can have. Roles, relationships, assessment, qualifications, subjects, communication, content, activities, support and interaction all need to be addressed. While pockets of innovation are growing in some schools and classrooms, those responsible for overall policy and direction remain unmoved by the possibilities."
Of course EFF11 will also be joined by EFF's own fellows from across the globe, many of them authorities on handheld learning (including Sugata Mitra), as it is streamed live. There will also be invited guests, including independent thinkers like Bob Harrison. As in previous debates the arguments can continue across Twitter (follow @EFFdebate) and questions posted back into the discussion via the #EFFdebate hashtag. The event is absolutely free. There is no need to register – just click to watch.
Unesco and mobile learning
Unesco has invested a great deal in events and online resources and publications to support teachers and policy makers with mobile learning, and it's well worth checking out its online presence which includes: Unesco Publications; ICT in Education – Mobile Learning; ICT in Education Unesco Mobile Learning Publications; Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning; Resources to complement UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning; Reading in the Mobile Era; Mobile Learning Week Presentations; Mobile Learning for Teachers in Europe.
Perhaps the area with most to gain from mobile technology, however, is inclusion and special needs. John Galloway concludes: "Nowhere are mobile technologies having a greater impact than for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. What were once specialist technologies – voice activation, touch-screens, speech recognition, screen-readers – are now ubiquitous and immediately to hand.
"Our engagement with technology has become more immediate, more natural, and thereby our access to knowledge, and the ability to create, communicate and share it, has shifted so that different ways of working, and learning, can develop. Ways that are more personal, and therefore more effective, for each individual." EFF11 promises to explore these with zest, in great detail and with fresh contributions from all over the world.
Online video recording of EFF11
EFF on Twitter: @EFFdebate #EFF11
EFF on Facebook
Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies (Routledge – October 2014)
Authentic Learning for the Digital Generation: Releasing the potential of technology in the classroom (Routledge)
More from Unesco
ICT in Education: Mobile Learning
ICT in Education: Unesco Mobile Learning Publications
Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning
Resources to complement UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning
Reading in the Mobile Era
Mobile Learning Week Presentations
Mobile Learning for Teachers in Europe