I knew that I had to talk with Shelly Sanchez Terrell again when I learned through the tweetvine that she had a new book out about mobile learning (Learning to Go: Lesson Ideas for Teaching with Mobile Devices, Cell Phones, and BYOT). Six years ago, my interview with and blog post about Terrell’s netweaving turned out to be a useful resource when I sought to explain to educators the value and how-to of personal learning networks. She’s a teacher who teaches teachers. She’s taught in more than 20 countries! She’s currently adjunct professor At Alamo Community College in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve learned a great deal from her.
I taught social media literacies at Berkeley and Stanford for years, and although we regularly used forums, wikis, blogs, social bookmarking and video chat, I only used the power of my students’ mobile devices once — toward the end of my last teaching year. I had been encouraging students to take charge of their learning. They took turns co-teaching with me, they shared their “learner lectures” with me and each other, and they learned together in public through WordPress blogs they had installed and configured themselves. With three weeks left in the quarter, I wrote on the whiteboard all the activities I required of them (blog and forum posts, co-teaching, maintaining the lexicon wiki, were a few). I then wrote my phone number on the board and told them to revise the curriculum to their own liking for the remainder of the quarter. I wouldn’t return until they texted me, and they were free to text me questions while they constructed their new syllabus. They texted me with questions while I walked around campus, and after 45 minutes (of a three hour class), they told me to return. I had written in red marker and they revised it in blue marker. But, that was the extent of my experimentation with mobile learning.
I dealt with the issue of laptops in classrooms by encouraging students to become aware of when, how, and why they were using them. We experimented with “attention probes” (for example, only five students out of 20 could have their laptops open at the same time). And, I made it clear to those who were strongly focused on their grades that in a small seminar, it is abundantly clear to the teacher which students pay attention and which students regularly check out. But, I never tried to harness the power of the devices every student carries and to which many students devote much of their time. In retrospect, this was my failure. I had talked with Bryan Alexander about mobile learning affordances and mobile learning and equity, but I didn’t make a plan or experiment. If I was starting out today, I’d use Terrell’s book.
In our conversation, Terrell mentioned her use of Quizlet, which enables students to gamify their study and review material on their mobile devices. Most importantly, she emphasized, was helping students begin to see their smartphones as tools for learning anywhere and anytime, not just in the classroom or in study sessions. “When we do that, we also help them do something very powerful by taking a step toward their autonomy as a learner.”
If you are teaching students today, don’t ignore the most powerful media affordance in the classroom. Listen to Shelly Terrell and start experimenting with mobile learning.