We need a revolution before we can go mobile

As this house full of kids has finally calmed down and everyone has made their way to bed, I had the opportunity to grab a break and spend some quality time with my Xbox and a recently acquired copy of Battlefield 2 Bad Company. Instead I dipped my toes into the Twitter stream and stumbled upon a conversation about mobile technology.

Having previously met @daviderogers at a TeachMeet at the end of last year, it was a conversation he was having that grabbed my attention. I have been following David for a while and appreciate how keen he and his team of Geographers are in building the use of technology in their organisation. This particular conversation had begun to consider the place of mobile technologies in educational organisations. It was this Tweet from Graham Brown-Martin that struck me as significant:

@davidErogers @chri5grant @IanYorston @jodieworld there’s been so many pilot’s for mobile you’d have thought we’d have got take off by now!
01/10/2011 19:47

It’s true. There have been many projects focused on mobile technology in recent years. Molenet being one that I’ve been quite aware of, though have not participated directly. I’ve seen some evidence of success in solutions that typically have focused in more prosperous times in the purchase of large stocks of hardware – everything from laptops down through the form-factors through netbooks, tablets, PSP’s, DS’s, PDA’s, portable media players and most recently smart phones. Fantastic for our asset registers, but what of the change that subsequently took place in these educational projects?

I recall being impressed by seeing vocational learners using PSP’s equipped with cameras recording their activities in their place of work and / or learning – engineering and hairdressing being instances where a real difference to the learner could be osberved. Now, it’s been a while since I saw each of these examples up close, but what of these same students, and the hardware that was acquired to support them? What impact did this really have, and are the assets still usable in the same context – has the original purpose been maintained, or allowed to evolve with time?

Having such assets is great. Buying all this new stuff has enabled us to try new ideas, expirement with new technologies, evaluate the benefits for learners. But: technology has been moving faster than we as educational organisations have been able to keep pace with. It will continue to do so.

It can be argued that we still haven’t achieved ‘take off’ with mobile technologies. In my experience at least, I have encountered no organisation where mobile technology has been truly embedded in the strategy, policies and curriculum, and been fully adopted by staff and learners (except perhaps for Albany Senior High School). Compare this position with the developmental progress over the past five or more years of online progress tracking and reporting systems for learners – Individual Learning Plans in our case. These have been conceptually desired by educators at many levels for some years, but have taken a considerable time to reach any kind of matured state where it might be said that overall, some consistency has emerged in the supportive value each presents to staff, leaners and parents or guardians. Each has evolved with a number of conflicting factors tugging in many directions; the desire for managerial reports, the need for staff to have access to key performance measurements, for students and parents to view feedback, results and timetables. When such tools were in their infancy, and with a lack of standardisation in this field, many were led to develop their own systems in the absence of anything more suitable. For a time this has worked, and now, some consistency in our different approaches has emerged.

Maybe the same is still the case with mobile technology. Maybe we have yet to establish the consistency that will eventually enable us to deliver mobile technology into an educational curriculum? All those unique organisational characteristics that make us so individual in our areas of specialism are forming very different mobile opportunities for us, with no clear outcome yet visible. Except, of course, that we do know mobile will become increasingly important to all of us (even if we don’t necessarily admit that yet).

The cultural change required for us to adopt mobile technology as a fundamental part of educational life and an embedded feature of our curricula is huge. Perhaps this is a bigger cultural change for many of our staff than they have ever encountered before. Why? Because this revolution in technology takes the power and control associated with technology beyond the teacher, and beyond the organisation. Previous technology revolutions have been focused around the development of the organisation – building our assets, our ability to manage or learners, or the processes required in order to support our learners. Change is often uncomfortable; I can remember receiving harsh criticism for disposing of overhead projectors in favor of SmartBoards and projectors in order to move us along a bit. Change has previously not left teachers or support staff without the control to which we are all accustomed; we have been in the driving seat. Mobile technologies however, are transcending the boundaries of our organisations – and there are as many driving factors emerging from outside the organisation as from within. The challenge lies in leading our staff through the revolution necessary to transform our culture into one that is accepting of these changing boundaries of control. It’s not another mobile pilot we need, it’s a cultural revolution.

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