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Simple Tips for Mobile Learning Success

An effective mobile-device program can add depth to your lesson plans. Follow these guidelines to develop your own winning strategy.

The use of mobile technology has changed how we live, from accessing news and entertainment to learning new things. Mobile device usage in schools is at an all-time high and the trend is likely to escalate. Parents, students and educators alike are calling for more mobile usage as a way to enhance learning and make it more relevant.

There are many types of mobile devices, from tablets to laptops to cell phones, and many ways to use them in schools, from district-provided devices to bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) implementations. But regardless of what devices you use, here are a few tips that can help make your mobile learning program a success.

1. Start with the learning objectives. This may sound obvious, but too many programs start with the hardware and the apps rather than focusing on what students will be doing with them. Think about the highest priority standards and skills that students struggle with or that you need more support for. Then look for content and apps to support them.

2. Focus on the content. The most successful mobile learning programs provide students with a large selection of carefully selected, well organized content. (Conversely, providing students with blank devices can be a recipe for disaster.) Make sure to have a “home base” classroom website that has all the resources you are using, as well as extra materials that can be used for differentiation. If you don’t have a classroom website, a wiki is a great way to create one. Wikispaces is one of several wiki hosts that allows educators to create ad-free wikis. This site should be the home page of each device’s browser and students should know to go there as soon as they turn their devices on.

For students who might use the devices in places without wireless access, preload as much relevant content on the devices as possible. It’s amazing how even unfocused students will get drawn into school-related content if it is pre-installed on the device.

3. Set up an easy-to-manage system to get content to the devices. Depending on your devices and the size of your school’s implementation, that might mean syncing all the devices to one classroom computer or using a mobile device management system to push out content and updates.

4. Integrate mobile devices into students’ day-to-day work; don’t limit usage to special projects. There are so many ways to use mobile devices, including for research, note taking, reading, writing, studying and staying organized. Encourage students to identify uses that are helpful to them in their studies.

5. Share devices in an effective way. If you don’t have the luxury of having a one-to-one program, think through how devices will be shared. Effective strategies include having a set of 5 or 6 devices that stay in each classroom and are used by different students or groups as needed and having a “check out” period that is several weeks long for sets of devices to allow for meaningful use.

6. Label devices and set the home screen to show the device name or number. All these devices tend to look the same, so you’ll want a quick and easy way to identify which device is which.

7. Establish a system for charging devices. Make sure you have enough chargers and power outlets that are easy to get to. Have students be responsible for monitoring and charging their own devices and make sure they have them ready to use when you have class mobile activities planned.

8. Set up procedures that will make file management easy for you. Have a workable way to exchange files with students, such as using Google Docs. Establish file naming procedures so that when 30+ documents are turned in, you can easily tell which is which. One suggestion is to give each assignment a standard name (e.g. “biomes”) and then have students add their name and period number if relevant (e.g. “2-biomes-john_smith”). And once you set up a system like this, don’t accept work that isn’t properly named. This is the modern equivalent of turning in a paper without a name on it!

Similarly, your students will likely use many web-based tools that require log-ins and passwords. Set up a system for this, make sure students keep track of their information and keep a master list so that if information is forgotten, you have it readily at hand. For school network use, you can use unique user names like a student’s first initial, last name and last four digits of their ID number (e.g. “jsmith6752”). For passwords, using the same password as for the school network is a manageable solution. For public sites, however, avoid using real names or other identifying information. Managing this type of information is a 21st century skill that students will need in the real world!

9. Have written policies for mobile device usage. Include things like how students are to care for devices (don’t store in hot places; keep in the case) and rules for acceptable use (no off-task use during class; follow teacher instructions). There are great examples of other rules and policies to consider online. Make these rules a part of a contract that students and parents sign before devices are issued. Making sure students understand that having the devices is a privilege and that they are being given a responsibility to care for them appropriately can go a long way toward avoiding problems.

10. Use student helpers! Face it: our students probably know more about mobile technology than most of us, so use this to your advantage! Assign students to be the tech support helpers for different kinds of problems like wireless access challenges or syncing support. Rotating these roles gives students the chance to learn new things and take on leadership roles—as well as making your life easier!

Following these guidelines can ensure that your mobile program is manageable for you and is successful in helping students excel.

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