Day 2 of Handheld Learning 2009 and the first day of the conference part featured lots of speakers. Funny (or ironic) part, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about mobile or handheld learning, as the session titles indicate (Reflections on Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Games for Learning, Social Media for Learning). Maybe a sign of things to come??
Reflections on Learning
In any event, judging from the lively twitter feed, especially in the morning, opinions related to this trend were divided. Some people wanted to see more mobile learning stuff, others thought that the keynotes were provocative and forced the audience to think outside of the box. I would tend to agree with the latter, although at least some references to mobile learning would have been helpful (if you want to see any of the morning keynotes, please go here).
The keynotes kicked of with Zenna Atkins, the chair person of Ofsted, who talked about the current status of schools and technology in the UK to some extent and argued that change is needed and needs to be consumer-driven. She mentioned that mobile technologies are becoming increasingly important in schools, but not necessarily in ways intended. She mentioned that in some cases, camera phones were used by students to capture bad teaching. In addition, Like doctors, teachers will soon have pupils knowing more about outcomes/paths of their education, as some are looking up curriculum online and calling on teachers on not covering certain objectives. This consumer revolution in education will be about content, context, and how to get access. I still have some questions about what her vision would look like in reality and how it would be funded, as current educational structures and funding schemes most likely would not work.
Atkins was followed by Malcom McLaren, who admitted that he was speaking at a conference that was definitely not in his comfort zone, and proceeded by telling the audience his schooling/educational experiences, in rather colorful language. He talked about how Britain is broken, and its culture is failing many, by saying how too much of it supports the notion that it is cool to be stupid (karaoke culture), at least in the Anglo-Saxon world. In addition, he argued that failure and struggle are important to succeed. As far as the role of technology is concerned in all of this, McLaren said it was just a tool; don’t become a slave to it. Don’t let it replace experiencing the world.
Next up was Yvonne Roberts from the Young Foundation, who also talked (well, sort of rambled) about failure and grit, but said she sees Britain not as broken but as bursting with potential. She emphasized the importance of stories, and expressed the hope that testing and standards don’t drive out inquiry and children’s inquisitive nature. With regards to technology use for learning, Rogers disagreed with McLaren, calling it an ingredient, not a tool. She noted that research says that the best ratio of kids to computers is 2:1. She did not cite any research, but Yvonne Rogers made the same argument in Mobile technology for children: Designing for interaction and learning. How substantial the evidence is for this argument I do not know, but to some extent there is something to say for children collaborating face-to-face using digital tools, although I can think of plenty of examples where 1:1 ratios work well also. It all depends on the teacher and the pedagogy, not on the technology. Many in the audience disagreed with her arguments for 2:1 ratios.
The morning keynotes ended with a good talk by James Paul Gee, who discussed that video games have qualities to enhance learning that are based on solid educational research, and that formal education does not. He made the case that we learn by using experiences within which we can develop thoughts and understanding about concepts and ideas (situated meaning). He used the analogy that learning in school is like reading the manual to a video game without having seen the game, i.e. learning in school is learning devoid of context. Outside of school, kids are learning much more complicated things because something is at stake, e.g. when playing or modding video games or games like Yu-gi-oh. Gee emphasized the importance of passion and persistence. You learn if you’re passionate about something, but you can only become good at it if you put in the time (10,000 hours).
In sum, themes of the morning key notes seemed to be the importance of struggle and failure, and how current educational systems are not providing students with learning that is relevant, authentic, and motivating. Students need to be passionate and persistent about their learning, but it will not be easy to get to that point. In this regard, the key notes left some big questions unanswered;
- Technology can motivate students to learn, but how do you turn motivation into passion? (and 10,000 hours of persistence?)
- What are viable alternatives to current educational systems, what would they look like, and how would they be funded?
- How would we prepare pre-service and in-service teachers for such a system?
- What roles can mobile technologies play? For example, nobody, except maybe for Gee, discussed the role/importance of learning outside of school.
All in all, the morning was interesting and thought-provoking, and while not really providing concrete solutions, it left much food for thought.