They had the infrastructure: a schoolwide Wi-Fi network
backed by robust high-speed broadband. They had the devices: 1:1 iPads for
seventh-grade students. They even had an evaluation process to ensure their
investment paid off in student achievement.
By all measures, the rollout of Barnstable Intermediate School’s mobile
learning program was a success. Still, something was missing.
“We didn’t always have time for discussion,” said Bethann Orr, director of
technology for Barnstable Public Schools in Massachusetts. “Teachers tried what
they did, and some things worked and some didn’t. We didn’t have a cohesive
group. Without that structure, I think we struggled for a while.
“It was kind of hit or miss when we found somebody doing good stuff and when
we found somebody who needed areas of support.”
To bolster the next phase of the district’s mobile learning initiative —
expansion into the eighth grade — Orr gathered a group of teachers and signed up
for ISTE’s rigorous Verizon Mobile Learning Academy (VMLA). During the 10-week
online course, teachers had the chance to explore not only what to do with
mobile technology in class, but how to adjust their teaching methods to allow
anytime, anywhere learning.
“VMLA helped me provide a solid foundation for these teachers to get the
technology and walk in and be shining stars and models for the rest of the
teachers in the entire school,” she said. “Other teachers are now working with
curriculum coordinators, doing classroom observations and focusing on the work
the students are doing, not necessarily what the teachers are doing.”
Changing the face of teaching
Any mobile learning initiative worth its salt aims to improve student
outcomes — and that’s more likely to happen when teachers fundamentally change
their instructional strategies to capitalize on mobile capabilities, researchers
In other words, it takes a big paradigm shift to make mobile learning
“Teachers need help in making that transition from the traditional role of
teacher to understanding that now they’re going to be more of a facilitator who
is differentiating instruction so students can be fired up by their passions and
move through a content in more of a real-life situation, rather than what we see
now,” Orr said.
It’s a shift that requires teachers to release the instructional reins,
allowing students to drive
their own learning — and often to become comfortable with students knowing
more than them about the devices.
“VMLA allowed us to stop and just discuss what is so important in the
transition from the old model of the classroom to the new model of the classroom
— having a ubiquitous tool, having anytime, anywhere access to creation, global
communication, collaboration. We were able to have the conversation with
teachers to say, ‘Let go and let your students investigate and create.’ ”
Structuring mobile learning
In hindsight, one of the Barnstable’s biggest struggles during the seventh
grade rollout was the lack of a cohesive learning management system (LMS) to
help teachers and curriculum coordinators digitize
“That was a huge lesson for me. You’ve got to have the structure. You’ve got
to prepare the teachers, have support and get the technology into their hands so
they can experience it,” Orr said.
Another struggle came from putting mobile learning in the hands of teachers
who had never actually seen it in action. Without having experienced what their
students were supposed to experience, many teachers simply used the mobile
technology as a substitute for other tools.
By taking the VMLA course together, Barnstable’s eighth-grade teachers were
able to not only see mobile learning in action but to experience it for
“It’s really not about the device, it’s what’s happening in classroom:
empowering students, utilizing their passion, being able to differentiate
instruction, using technology to create,” Orr said.
“This is going to excite the teachers, and they’re not going to stand for the
old-fashioned way of teaching anymore.”
This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on Dec. 12, 2014.
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