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New Tech Center Aims to Further Understanding of Mobile Learning

The University of San Diego is offering educators and administrators the first accredited certificate in mobile technology tools, teaching, and metrics.

From pre-kindergarten through higher education, mobile technology is changing the way we teach and learn. Change is never easy, however, and many educators are struggling to keep up with the latest advancements in mobile technology--and how to use these evolving devices in the classroom.

The University of San Diego (CA) hopes to overcome all that. Its School of Leadership and Education Sciences recently announced the creation of a Mobile Technology Learning Center (MTLC) to provide research-based answers to many of the unknowns regarding mobile technology and learning. By collaborating with local school districts, as well as with institutions of higher learning and government agencies, MTLC wants to be a "living laboratory" for schools and educators, to test research findings, and to provide future teachers with unique teaching and research opportunities.

"MTLC was created as K-12 school systems seek access to resources on how best to utilize mobile devices instructionally and technically to personalize education and increase student achievement," said Shawn Gross, senior associate for MTLC. "The emphasis is on the concept of digital literacy, project-based learning, social and collaboration tools, and the mobile learning ecosystem."

And, starting this fall, USD will offer a MTLC certificate course designed for K-12 educators and administrators. It's the first mobile-tech program of its kind to provide an accredited certificate through a university system, and is being offered nationally as a fully online experience. Called "Digital Literacy for Teachers and Leaders," the program includes four in-depth courses that can be completed in eight months. Topics will include integrating mobile technology tools into the student learning experience, as well as developing tools and metrics to evaluate their success.

"Teachers who graduate from a college of education are having the most difficulty with implementation of mobile technology in their first to third year out of college," noted Gross. "One of our goals is to eliminate this gap by launching the MTLC Certificate Program, and further collaborate with other anchor institutions to disseminate information on how to better prepare school systems for the new mobile learning reality."

Collaborative Research           
When it come to research and identifying best practices, MTLC hopes to develop a collaborative framework. "Most institutions are seeking inputs to build a sustainable mobile learning program" explained Gross. "Through the center, USD is tapping into its professors, fellows, and grad students to assist with research and evaluation to help school systems build this new capacity."

Current goals for the MTLC include:

  • Create research teams of members located throughout the world via the internet.
  • Build links among university researchers and school-based practitioners.
  • Develop criteria of learning effectiveness for comparing mobile devices.
  • Create and disseminate evidence-based practices for using mobile devices to support learning.

In addition, the MTLC has designed a teaching-innovation studio to serve as a model for the use of mobile learning technology in the K-12 and work environment. It will also provide opportunities through meetings and workshops for practitioners to actively learn and explore within an environment specifically designed to accommodate mobile technology.

USD centers in San Diego and in Washington, DC, will also help to aggregate information and research. In one project currently underway, MTLC is researching the efficacy of off-campus mobile broadband for teaching and learning as part of the Federal Communication Commission's "Learning on the Go" initiative. The project is gathering quantitative and qualitative data from 20 pilot participants, including 13 schools and one library, with USD aggregating the research and reporting back to the FCC. The MTLC will release an interim report this fall, with a final report in the spring of 2013.

One of the greatest mobile-tech challenges highlighted by MTLC is the cost of access for K-12 students. Internet-access fees add up quickly, and the devices themselves can be expensive, although prices are "falling tremendously," said Gross, noting that Amazon's Kindle sells for as little as $79.

To tackle the issue, the MTLC is identifying and pursuing a range of strategies in conjunction with the federal government and other organizations. "Some communities are building out their own WiFi networks, with an emphasis on K-12 and higher ed," continued Gross. "There are also initiatives at universities to build up their WiFi networks [to support] surrounding communities. In this way, K-12 can benefit from area universities. In addition, the FCC is providing funding opportunities for carriers to provide the least costly services to education customers."

MLTC is also compiling evidence that the earlier schools start utilizing mobile technology the better. Indeed, recent research indicates that the best place to start is kindergarten to fifth grade. The MTLC has a network of training teams with direct experience in implementing and teaching mobile skills. One of their teams recently taught second and fifth graders how to use iMovie on the iPad. It took 10 minutes to teach the second graders; 50-60 minutes to teach the fifth graders.

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