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Going back to the drawing board

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Mobile devices are taking education back to square one, according to Mark Riley, instructional technology coordinator for the College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University. Riley presented “Designing for Mobile Learning in a Smartphone and App-based World” at last week’s CT Forum in Long Beach, CA.

“Everything we base education off of is from people who didn’t own smartphones,” asserted Riley, referencing education forefathers Plato and John Dewey. “They didn’t have smartphones or tablets. If they did, what they said would be different from what they wrote in those books.”

More than anything, mobile learning means teachers can extend learning beyond academic subject matter and allow students to develop real-world skills. “These are the skills we want our students to leave college with,” said Riley. “Social skills, being able to work as a team, solve problems as a team. We’ve always had trouble teaching those skills.”

So where do faculty start? Riley outlined four lessons he’s learned from mobile learning programs at his institution.

Get comfortable with devices and apps. Faculty often attempt to implement mobile learning without having first-hand knowledge of devices and apps. Don’t make this mistake, warns Riley. Find out what other educators are using and play with those devices and tools. “You have to get comfortable with the devices, with the apps,” he said. “You have to know what they’re made to do.”

Set boundaries. It’s important to establish rules of engagement and acceptable use right from the start, stated Riley. Remind students of your institution’s acceptable use policies, which generally apply toward devices and computing resources owned or managed by the school. And set the groundwork early for rules of engagement. “Students will email at all hour,” he said. “Let them know you’re not answering emails at midnight; you will only answer during certain hours of the day.”

Start with what you know. Do you have a favorite app or social media tool? Start there, Riley encouraged. Keep it simple. He referenced the professor of an environmental health and safety course that used Instagram for an assignment. The professor had students take photos of safety objects they saw every day, such as elevators and ramps, and posted them to Instagram. The professor was pleasantly surprised by the observations and conversations that evolved from the activity. Riley also advised faculty to include students in the planning of learning activities. “Don’t leave [students] out of the [planning] discussion,” he advised. “They’re part of the learning process.”

Teach responsible behavior. While this may seem obvious, recent news reports show that many students don’t exercise responsible behavior with their mobile devices. Incorporate this lesson you’re your activities. Mobile learning is a prime opportunity to teach safety and etiquette.

Moving to mobile is more than redesigning a course for a smaller screen, said Riley. It’s about going back to the drawing board and rethinking approaches and expected outcomes. It’s about experimenting with new ideas. It’s about taking “down the walls of the classroom” and creating engaging and practical new learning experiences.

“Mobile learning is that important,” Riley said. “Mobile learning incorporates real-world learning. Now we can send students out into the real world.”