Thursday, December 1

Mobile Learning at TEDxLondon

Geoff Stead presents mobile learning as a tool for empowerment at TEDxLondon – a TED event dedicated to shaking up education

Original slides available on slideshare

Presentations by the other (amazing!) co-presenters on the TEDxLondon site


I’d like to introduce you to a word. Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is an African concept that doesn’t translate easily into English. It means “I am me because of us”, “I grow myself by helping others around me to grow”.

It is an awesome word. I try to live my life by it. And it is the philosophy behind the projects I would like to tell you about.

Mobile phones have become part of our lives. There are more phones in the developed world than people. The developing world is catching up fast. Mobile connectivity is transforming how we communicate. And where.  And when. It has fundamentally changed how we look up information. It has generated new kinds of job that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. New types of entertainment.  New forms of art.

So why not new ways to learn?

This is already happening - it is called mobile learning. Bringing mobile devices and phones into the class to enhance learning.

Smartphones are like a swiss army knife, packed with school friendly tools:
They are cameras, writing tools, eBook readers, calculators, diaries, reference books. You have the entire web in your hand

But more importantly they are agents for change - encouraging new ways of teaching

    * Learner centered: Learning is mobile and can happen anywhere. It can happen anytime: in or out of school. It can be collaborative. It can also be intensely private.
    * Teacher is no longer the source of all facts, but rather a collaborator and guide
    * The encourage lots of future skills like those listed on the slide

In the UK I mostly work with learners NOT in school. Kids who have dropped out. Young offenders. The unemployed. Adults in training but struggling to read and write. People for whom traditional school didn’t work out. I build software to support their learning – regularly making use of mobile phones as a stimulus. But a few years ago I happened to meet a fellow South African who shared my passion for education, and wanted to take these same ideas back into South Africa, to mainstream schools

And we did! The projects are collectively called m-ubuntu, and use mobile learning as a stimulus to encourage critical debate between teachers, and improve the quality of teaching.

They take refurbished smartphones, with some educational software and tools installed onto them, and use them to improve teaching and learning. The results have been inspiring. Local teachers even won a grant from the US to go to Washington and share what they had learned with American teachers!

But the successes are not down to putting smartphones into poor schools – they are about using them as an agent for change.

The real wins happen when teachers work with other teachers to discuss how best to use these new tools.

<< stepping through a range of photos from the project >>

Of course these happy photos only tell a fragment of the story. There are some challenging new skills to learn for both students and teachers. What happens if they are stolen? Or if students give away personal data? What about internet safety? Or plagiarism. By working on these challenges together, the real value kicks in . Students get engaged and build real life skills

Mobile learning is certainly here to stay. It may be initially disruptive – but isn’t that exactly the stimulus we need to help focus education towards the future?

If you want to try this for yourself, here are my 3 top tips:

  1. Firstly – don’t be constrained by pre-packaged learning resources. Think of the smartphone as a tool to do stuff. Record music. Film a movie. Build an app. This is what they are made for, and makes for the best learning.
  2. Secondly – It won’t be right first time, but if you try again it will get better. And the time after than even better. It is OK to make mistakes – so plan in flexibility
  3. Thirdly – Share the learning with your students. Discuss mobile learning with them. Let the kids learn the details about the phones, and become your technical support. By building autonomy and problem solving skills they will be learning some real future skills

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