Jul 25, 2011

ACU Connected Leads the Way

As high school students prepare for higher education, we as teachers want to make sure that they leave us with the skills they need to not only be successful in college, but also in the workplace. Over the past five years, the availability of mobile technology has changed dramatically. With those changes, the skills required in the workplace have changed, and as they should, the skills that students are acquiring in college have changed. enGauge (2003) points out that some of the skills required of workers in the new digital age are collaboration, interactive communication, and effective use of real world tools (p. 12). With this shift in mindset, schools are beginning to offer a different way of learning to help students attain those skills.

 
It was just a short time ago that Apple introduced the iPhone, which revolutionized mobile communication across the country. Since then, other companies like Samsung and HTC have followed suit in creating mobile phones similar to the iPhone, and other devices, like the iPod Touch, have made communication and computing more accessible to the masses. A side effect of this change is that many schools have begun incorporating mobile technology in their classrooms.

 
Universities like Abilene Christian University have gone the added distance of providing such devices to incoming freshman to help them collaborate with peers, stay connected beyond the classroom walls, and facilitate the learning process. The result of the ACU Connected initiative is that learning at ACU has made the transition from teacher centered learning in which students are constantly in search of what will be on the test and answering the question of “when will I need to know this?” to becoming more student centered. Student centered learning creates an atmosphere in which students take greater ownership in the learning process by engaging in meaningful discussion and producing work that is representative of the content they are to be learning. Dr. Dwayne Harapnuik (n.d.) adds that “Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to this active and dynamic approach is that leaners [sic] are engaged in the knowledge-creation process and no longer just view themselves as passive recipients of information but rather contributors” (n.pag.).

 
View the following video to see examples of student attitudes and the impact of the ACU Connected initiative:


 
The endeavor of providing mobile devices for the classroom began at ACU in 2007, when faculty began exploring the idea of bringing mobile devices into the classroom. Since then, the program has been well received as student participation has been high and faculty perceptions have been very positive. When asked of their experiences in using iPhones in their college classes, students like Mark Foster have praised the program by saying:

 
"Mobile learning is allowing students to have more engaging experiences in the classroom. When a teacher comments about something you want to know more about, you can pull out your iPhone and search for additional information. It encourages students to learn more." (Abilene Christian University 2009-10 Mobile Learning Report, p. 4).

 
Increased collaboration and communication at the higher education level using these devices has come in many forms. Teachers have the ability to share information before and after classes, as well as use class blogs and forums so that students can collaborate outside of class. As well, students can use their devices to take advantage of podcasts and videos that are made available on the internet by their instructors, or create their own content using their phones or tablet devices. Finally, by having mobile devices in hand, teachers can give out last minute tips and reminders to students, allowing seamless communication and adding less confusion about due dates and assignment guidelines.

 
As institutions of higher education begin to integrate technology in the ways we have just discussed, high school administrators and teachers are more aware of the pressures to begin incorporating the same skills and tools into their classrooms. Teachers at Wolf Creek Public Schools have found that allowing students to use technology in the classroom has created a shift in learning and skills: “The switch to personal mobile devices has moved the focus away from getting information to learning and asking questions” (Roscorla, T., 2011). Author Tanya Roscorla goes on to quote superintendent Gary Spence in saying, “It's about enhancing and building excellent learning environments. It's not a tech goal; it's a learning goal” (Roscorla, T., 2011).

 
High schools don’t necessarily need to take on as large a task as Abilene Christian University in providing iPhones to students. However, we can use ACU Connected as a model to begin integrating more technology by allowing students to bring their own devices to school. This will require a change in mindset on the part of our schools, but allowing this change will free students from the passive role of listening and absorbing, and give them the ability to explore, create and communicate beyond the walls of the classroom. A “Bring Your Own Device” rule will allow students who have devices to begin using them in productive ways, such as responding to in class polls, adding information to blog discussions, or researching information on the fly. To accommodate students without such devices, schools might utilize grant dollars or donations to provide wi-fi enabled iPod touches. An effort this size will invariably create opposition from some teachers, so we will need to proceed at a slow pace. A pilot program could include those teachers who feel comfortable integrating mobile technology into their classrooms. Afterward, successes and failures can be measured to make changes to the program, and then the pilot group can train other faculty members on integration techniques.

 
As high school teachers, although we may be resistant to allow students to use phones, tablets, and other handheld devices in school, we are just embarking on an innovation in learning that has already created a great amount of change. As always, students that leave our building will be adequately prepared for college if we are able to impart the book knowledge we have always given them. But, they will be more prepared if we are able to pass on twenty-first century skills that enable them to collaborate and work in a digital age.

 
References

 


  • Harapnuik, Dwayne. (n.d.). Engaging and student centered. ACU connected blog. Web. 25 July 2011.

  • Roscorla, Tonya. “Wolf creek public schools embraces byod, puts pedagogy first.” Converge Magazine, 5 July 2011.  Web.  25 July 2011. 
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For more information, view the following video regarding student use of mobile devices at ACU: