The article's title caught my eye first—17 Ways i-Pads will be Used in Schools in 2013! And then I noticed that #1 refers to a program in one of our own communities! School administrators in Arab, Alabama are putting i-Pads into the hands of their students and I couldn't be more excited for both the learners AND the instructors! But the list certainly doesn't stop there.
As encouraging as this list is to read, I am still looking for more details about using i-Pads (and similar mobile technologies) for learning assessment purposes. The mobility afforded the instructor/learner team is unprecedented. How can the i-Pad's power and mobility enhance teaching and learning? How can teaching and learning be enhanced with the use of mobile technology? What makes mobile technology so powerful in teaching and learning?
If the teaching and learning process is no longer limited to the time/place of a classroom meeting, learners are more easily able to ask questions when they occur (and receive answers in a more timely manner than waiting for the next class). But what if instructors are not available when learners ask questions? It's important to remember that instructors are not (and shouldn't be) the SOLE source of information and feedback for learners. With a mobile device, learners have access to each other as well as the World Wide Web for resolving questions and problems when instructors are not there to help. The process of this digital collaboration can be easily guided and monitored by creating and maintaining learning communities where learners can safely interact with each other and with learning materials and resources both in the absence and presence of the instructor. This more deeply integrates the teaching and learning process into the life of the learner, with greater probability of comprehension, retention and application of new ideas and information.
The best instructors know that all the knowledge in the world is useless to a learner who finds the learning process inaccessible or irrelevant to their own lives. With the addition of animated graphics, multimedia and video to the instructors' arsenal of tools, students engage more deeply with learning material, and for longer periods of time.
As an example, I remember one of my first encounters with a student on the campus where I now work. I asked him what his professors do with Blackboard that makes him happy and he said that just being able to review video recorded lectures had had a huge impact on his grades (and overall GPA). He said that he worked out in the gym every day with his i-Pod, listening to lectures over and over again as needed. He found that he often got lost during the lecture and appreciated the ability to rewind and replay sections as needed before moving on to increasingly complex discussions of ideas and facts. Without this mobile access, he speculated that he would get lost and remain lost and would eventually "check out" of the course experience by either withdrawing completely or engaging on only a minimal level to get through the course. With the simple addition of recorded lectures, he felt much better able to engage and maintain the engagement over the duration of the course.
Traditionally, the teaching and learning process has been somewhat one-sided except in the most progressive and exceptional of learning environments. The instructor gives, the learner receives. The instructor provides, the learner absorbs. Or doesn't. Who really knows until the final exam is given and grades calculated, and then what happens if someone was lost along the way? Too late.
The interactivity of mobile technology facilitates the exchange of teaching and learning between instructor and learner in a more balanced model. In fact, mobile technology provides the ideal platform for formative assessment (especially those models incorporating self- and peer-assessment practices) in replacement of summative assessment tools like multiple choices quizzes, which most agree are not the most reliable tools for assessing learning outcomes.
Using Blooms Digital Taxonomy as a reference, it's easy to see how the digital tablet can help achieve learning objectives that emphasize context, relevance and application of learning material. When students can demonstrate the application of knowledge rather than mere reflection of data and facts, we know that true learning has occurred. The digital tablet empowers students to demonstrate, list, build, illustrate, design and record the teaching and learning process to such limitless levels that I would personally deem the digital tablet the most promising tool for learning outcome assessment ... ever!
Mobile technologies allow for teaching and learning to happen in context—in the real world. Which is a better measure of learning: passing a text-based timed multiple choice quiz on plant identification, or submitting photographic sampling (taken on a mobile device, of course) of the same plants as they grow in the learner's physical environment (home, park, garden, forest, etc.)?
This is a prime example of how mobile technology can enhance learning assessments. How can learners give us evidence that they have learned? How can learners share learning with each other? Can learners who share physical environments/communities provide each other context for learning?
By allowing the teaching and learning to "go mobile" via tablet and smart phone technology, we are sending the subject matter content INTO the world of the learner, rather than simply wrapping around it from the far reaches of academia. Even without faculty guidance, the realization of relevance and application of subject matter knowledge is much more likely to lead to real-time integration of the ideas learned when they are physically available (via mobile technology) in the context of the learner's "real life" as opposed to the relatively sterile and institutional environment of a physical classroom.
The digital tablet (i-Pad and various Android devices) can be an amazing educational tool with vast benefit to both teacher and learner, but only if both instructors and learners connect on that platform in a virtual environment that meets the needs of all. Luckily, that's getting easier (and more fun) every day.