MobileLearning 09 Conference Day 1

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I was at the MobileLearning09 conference this week and tried blogging from there but a combination of shaky wireless access and the extremely full program kept me from blogging the conference live. In the next few posts I will try to recap what I heard and saw. Starting on Monday afternoon, there was a demo session, with some interesting booths. I spent a lot of time at the SOTI booth, where I got a nice demo of the back-end stuff that is being used for project K-Nect, as well as the fellows from ACU’s iPhone project

The demos were  followed by a brief opening by Shawn Gross, conference organizer, and Managing Director of Digital Millenial Consulting. He began with this quote:

Vision without action is merely a dream,
Action without vision just passes the time
Vision with action can change the world

(Joel Barker)

Shawn briefly discussed the need for 21st century skills, improved math and science skills (see e.g. the TIMMS report), and the need for access. He gave us an interesting twist on the digital divide in that even though schools are almost 100% connected to the web, many homes still aren’t! However, access to mobile phones is very high, with approximately 4 billion subscribers in 2009.

That said, many students are disengaging from school. According to a KRC Report (couldn’t find a link for this one), 89 % of students surveyed would rather clean their room, eat their vegetables, take out the trash, or go to the dentist instead of doing math. They also didn’t see the relevance of math to their lives.

Research by Digital Millenial Consulting has found that students

  • prefer cell phones over laptops
  • want to be connected
  • are changing but schools aren’t.

Nothing really striking or revolutionary in Shawn’s comments, but not a bad way to set the stage for a conference that included many representatives from industry and some from government, aside from the educators that were in attendance. The goals of the conference were summarized as follows:

Promote the development of mobile learning
Foster new innovative practices in mobile learning
Address key concerns of policy makers and educators regarding mobile technologies
Stimulate a critical debate on theories, approaches, principles and applications of mobile learning
Share local and international developments, experiences and lessons learned
Promote collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors in mobile learning
Encourage the study and implementation of mobile applications in teaching and learning

The conference was covered in the New York Times as well, and it’s noteworthy how controversial of a topic the use of mobile phones in schools still is. The article mentions that

Critics point out that access to such communications usually detracts from the overall time students spent thinking about studies. That is why at least 10 states, and many other school districts, have outright bans on cellphones on school premises.

“Texting, ringing, vibrating,” said Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union. “Cellphones so far haven’t been an educational tool. They’ve been a distraction.” Ms. Bass says it is “almost laughable that the cellphone industry is pushing a study showing that cellphones will make kids smarter,” particularly during a recession that is crushing the budgets of many school districts.

And some of this controversy did come out in the discussions we had at the conference…

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