I have to say that I have no idea where I stand on the issue of what kind of mobile devices we should be putting in our classrooms: laptops or iPads? Mobile phones? Something else? I cannot afford an iPad, so I have not really had the chance to look at one, or not long enough to do it justice, and likewise, my mobile phone is so archaic, I have never really used a smart phone, so I cannot really judge how useful it might be in the classroom.
I have embedded a poll in this blog, so that you can have your say, and I would love for you to comment. My school is in the process of making this decision, and we are desperate for quality input!
I do feel there are certain criteria we need to bear in mind when making this decision.
Equity. Firstly, we need to ensure that whatever we do conforms to standards of equity and equal opportunity. We need to ensure that all students, rich or poor, have access to mobile computing devices, and that this access is equivalent. This said, we need to ensure also that we do not move at the pace of the slowest, so to speak. Equity and equivalence does not necessarily mean a one-to-one correspondence. Just because student A can afford a really fancy device, and student B must be contented with a device supplied by the school, does not mean we should shy away from introducing a mobile computing programme. To do so does not benefit student B in the least. We do need, however, to make sure that student B’s device is adequate for everything required of it.
Access. To my mind the greatest factor in ensuring equity is that all students have access to their mobile computing devices for equivalent periods of time. I cannot see a programme which includes trolleys of devices available only during school time as constituting equity. Access must include home use. This would be my second criterion for any mobile computing programme in a school. Trolleys of laptops or banks of iPads available for occasional use will not really be effective. Access needs to be 24/7 to be effective. Given that schools can often command a better price by buying in bulk, or through some kind of subsidy programme be able to offer devices at a better price, this is an arrangement that is likely to be popular with parents.
My reasons for arguing that 24/7 access is important lie in the fact that so much of the pedagogical argument in favour of using mobile computing devices in class rests on the notion of any where, any time learning, of standing the classroom on its head, doing what used to be done in class at home, and what used to be done at home in class. This requires students to access content from home, and requires digital authoring at all stages, home and at school. Laptops, or iPads on trolleys just don’t meet this requirement!
Versatility. The third criterion is that whatever devices we use, be versatile enough to perform a range of digital authoring tasks, whether based on software programmes, apps, the networked drive or the Cloud. It doesn’t make sense to me to base a mobile computing programme on simply the ability to take photos, shoot video, answer a poll or tweet an answer! Students will need to create documents, will need to perform digital authoring tasks of all kinds, text and graphic-based. Versatility will also include the ability to embrace a mixed economy, a variety of solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Reliability. Whatever solution is found will also need to be robust and reliable. Murphy’s Law states that any lesson involving technology will involve minor catastrophes ranging from power failures to network outages, but this aside, devices used in the classroom will need to be supported by a sufficiently rugged infrastructure to minimise down-time. This includes issues such as being able to re-charge batteries and having technical support on an ongoing basis.
Security. In a perfect world one would not need to insure against theft, loss and so on, but any mobile computing programme will need to think very carefully about liability and lines of responsibility and ownership. This includes questions of acceptable use and corporate responsibility.