A strong case can be made that a revolution is underway in how computers are being perceived and used in schools across the world. In Australia it could be said Queensland is one of the epicenters of this change.
How do we know this? Several recent reports have shown that Australia has just about the highest uptake of smartphones and ‘mobile’ computers in the world.
- Figures from analyst house Telsyte show that 1.4 million tablet computers were purchased in Australia in 2011 and that Australians are taking to tablets – especially the iPad – at a higher rate per capita than other countries (http://delimiter.com.au/2012/02/15/apple-australia-sold-1-million-ipads-in-2011).
- The results of a Telstra Neilsen survey from July 2011 revealed that Australian smartphone ownership may already be as high as 46%, a 10% jump from 2010 (http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/download/document/fact-sheet-telstra-smartphone-index-2011.pdf).
- Google research from September 2011 showed not only that Australia is number two in the world for smartphone ownership (behind only Singapore), but that Australians also download more apps than users in the US and UK (http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/mobiles/australias-white-hot-smartphone-revolution-20110908-1jz3k.html).
- In Queensland, Optus reported that by October 2011, 55% of regional phone owners (traditionally a sector that lags behind in gadget adoption) had a smartphone (http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/story/2011/10/14/smartphones-hit-regional-qld).
This high uptake of mobile computers could mean that Australia is a key place to observe the move from computers being seen mainly as specialised machines that sit in their own category, to one where they are readily available at hand to enhance learning. This process can also be described as a move towards ‘appliance computing’, where the low cost and wide-spread use of mobile computers reaches a point where society views them as expected utilities, or everyday appliances in the same category as TVs, DVD players or microwaves.
It’s a situation which may be the norm for many of today’s students. For example an informal survey of over 600 students conducted by the Principal at a lower-socio economic school north of Brisbane in 2008 showed that more students already owned a mobile device such as an MP3 player, Nintendo DS and digital cameras than used a PC regularly (and this wasn’t even counting mobile phones!).
This rapid uptake by the Australian and Queensland public is one of the two main factors supporting the belief that this country is in a position to lead the way in pioneering ‘appliance computing‘ in education. The second factor is the growth in availability of these devices in schools. While some teachers in Queensland participated in a small PDA (personal digital assistant) trial in 2005, and others purchased small numbers of Nintendo DS handhelds, it has really been the release of the iPod touch (and then iPad), as well as the introduction of the XO mini-laptop program from One Laptop per Child Australia (OLPC), that has boosted the numbers of devices in schools.
Twenty–eight schools across Queensland ranging from lower-socio economic schools in northern urban centers, to the most remote in the very far west and in the Torres Strait have now been joined the OLPC program. Some schools partner with OLPC to deploy only one class-set, while others such as Doomadgee have over 350 across years P-7. OLPC Australia has been recognised for its training program that focuses on educational outcomes rather than just the laptop itself.
In addition, With mobile phone subscriptions now outnumbering computers, TVs and even FM radios (T. Ahonen, 2010) to the point where by as long ago as 2004, 45% of 13-15 year olds owned one (Allison, 2004), it is inevitable that such devices are having an impact in Queensland. Much has been said about the parental responsibilities involved with students having mobile phones by experts such as the Queensland Governments bullying adviser Michael Carr-Gregg who has advised parents not to “outsource responsibility to schools” (Brisbane Times, October 26 2010).
There are many schools that have reacted responsibly to the high ownership of mobile phones by students by instituting mobile phone use policies that suit the needs and expectations of their communities as well as legislation and state policies such as those posted at http://education.qld.gov.au/strategic/eppr/schools/scmpr003. One example that can be googled forms part of the Drillham State School ʻResponsible Behaviour Planʼ (see p20).
Apart from the behaviour management side of the impact of mobile phones, there are many examples of teachers gaining prior-approval and taking advantage of the mLearning (or mobile learning) capabilities of such devices such as their portability, simplicity and potential for improving the personal learning productivity in ways that donʼt actually use the ʻphoneʼ capabilities but rather the devices other features.
One of the main educational uses sees old or second-hand mobile phones being used as audio and video recorders. At Tullawong State School Learning Support Teacher Jonathan Nalder employed an old phone in this way to allow students to listen back to their reading and correct their own errors. A Year 6 Teacher at Worongary State School has supervised students to use them as mobile sound effects recorders to capture sounds not available in the classroom that are needed for stop-motion video creations.
At Strathpine West State School, a year seven teacher has also used old phones to record student verbal responses which would otherwise be lost on those occasions when they are working outside the classroom. These same students have also used them capture images whilst on excursions for later integration into learning tasks back in the classroom. Senior students at Kelvin Grove State College, which has begun incorporating the use of reference Apps (or software applications) into its Science Department ICT Strategic Plan, are using phones that can download apps to allow learning tools such as calculators, timers, stopwatches, periodic tables and biology charts to be available on a much wider basis to support ‘just-in-time’ learning as it happens than was possible before.
Not all educational use of mobile phones is driven just by teachers however. A Physical Education Head of Department at Palm Beach Currumbin State School has had his students approach him to request permission to use their mobile phones to improve their learning productivity by recording lessons. This allows them to better concentrate on the class because they can now review and study what was written and said at their own pace later on.
It is widely acknowledged that tablet devices are also becoming more popular, and an official Department of Education trial of iPads was conducted in Queensland in 2011 in two schools (http://education.qld.gov.au/projects/educationviews/smartclassrooms/2011/feb/ipad-110224.html). As well, enough other state schools had also purchased iPads such that a site was established in 2011 in the online community known as the Learning Place to support them. Several private schools such as Redlands College and The Southport School have also run trials or initiated 1:1 deployments of iPads. The latest development is the policy of the new LNP government in Queensland to deploy 20 tablet devices to every special education school, and 10 to every school with a special education unit to support students with special needs.
While it would be easy to assume that schools are just jumping on the latest bandwagon, the reality is that innovative professional development is being conducted to maximize the use of these devices as enablers of learning. All teachers from schools who join the One Laptop per Child program receive an initial 15 hours of training, with options for further accredited training to become local expert trainer. Students also can receive certificates for learning and then through demonstrating their skills, including becoming an ‘XO Mechanic’ become qualified to pull apart and conduct basic repairs on the devices.
Schools using other mobile devices such as iPads have been able to access for some time, numerous training sessions provided by the Department of Education and Training’s ICT Learning Innovation Centre. This centre, which is based at the University of the Sunshine Coast, delivered several online and in-person iPad-related workshops in 2011, with others already also conducted in 2012. In addition, the Department’s Division of Indigenous Education and Training Futures ran an in-person day of mobile device workshops in Cairns in late 2011, and due to demand, this was expanded into a two-day forum known as ‘Learning@hand’ attended by 130 educators in April 2012 (http://www.learningathand.info).
What has the impact been of all of this activity? A number of research projects overseas show that mobile devices have had a positive impact on learning; for example one from Maine in the United States where kindergarten students’ literacy and engagement levels saw a dramatic increase when using iPads (http://www.loopinsight.com/2012/02/17/ipad-improves-kindergartners-literacy-scores). Indications closer to home also show similar improvements.
In one of the first documented iPad trials anywhere in the world, Trinity College (TCFS) in Victoria deployed devices across eight classes and conducted a number of surveys (with 106 responses). They found that not only did the use of paper dramatically decrease, but that iPads were “effective, durable, reliable and achieve their educational aims of going further, faster and with more fun” and that they “have advantages for TCFS over other technologies such as netbooks and laptops”. As well, 80% of students and 76% of staff indicated they would recommend the iPad for others as a learning tool. (http://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/Media/docs/iPadPilotReport2011-1b1e1a52-79af-4c76-b5b6-e45f92f2c9e9-0.pdf)
A pioneer in this area has been Hambledon State School in Cairns who initiated an MP3 player program in 2009 that has since expanded into a parent-supported and Showcase for Excellence Award winning iPod touch and iPad project that ran from 2010-2012. Results from students participating showed that the number of behaviour tickets issued decreased markedly, and that 96% of students themselves reported they were learning better.
In its trial of iPads with Year 9 students in 2011, Brisbane’s Kedron State High School found that 15 out of the 24 students involved “improved their performance in comparison to previous grades” and assessments (http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdf/ipad-trial.pdf).
At Doomadgee State School in far north west Queensland, use of XO laptops has been partially credited by the Principal Richard Barrie, with helping the school’s Year 3 students achieve what the Courier Mail described as ‘stunning’ results (http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/doomadgee-state-school-produces-stunning-naplan-results-thanks-in-part-to-technological-advancements-in-teaching/story-e6freoof-1226137211426) in national numeracy testing (results went from 31% to 95%, where the state average is 95.2%). Overall, the school, which has 350 XO laptops in total and 30 iPads, saw NAPLAN scores lift in 13 out of 15 categories.
Using community engagement as another measure of success; the recent explosion from 65 to over 100 Prep enrollments at one Cairns school who promised XO mini-laptops to their 2012 Prep students as a way of addressing a local ‘digital divide’ in access to technology.
So it is not just the increase in numbers, but the positive examples of mobile technology use in Queensland schools and the willingness of schools to engage with these devices as additional tools to enable student success that demonstrates the possibility and flexibility these devices value add to the technology toolkit available to students, families and teachers.