Mobile Learning Experience Offers Cutting-Edge Training in the Technologies of the Future

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Arizona K12 Center is poised to draw an enthusiastic, innovative, and international group of educators and special guests to its 2013 Mobile Learning Experience. The conference, which will be held September 16–18, 2013 in Tucson, will feature events that go above and beyond almost any conference of its kind in the country and throughout the world.

“It truly is an international conference,” said Tony Vincent, an Instructional Technology Consultant with the Arizona K12 Center and one of the event’s organizers. “We’re very excited to be hosting it right here in Arizona.”

“We have an international cast of presenters,” added Katherine Burdick, a Consultant with the Arizona K12 Center on the Mobile Learning Experience. She noted that leaders in the mobile learning field will be coming from Canada, Mexico and Australia. “We pull in people who bring in their ideas to America,” she said. “That’s what learning is all about—globalization, understanding each other, the ability to make friends and come back year after year. We’re fostering a global community on education, not just one located in Phoenix or Tucson.”

Burdick has participated in several technology conferences, but saw a gap when it came to events specifically devoted to mobile learning, about which she is particularly passionate. “It usually has a small and unorganized role at conferences,” she said. So, together with Vincent, whom she met fittingly through Twitter, she began working on putting just such an event together. Vincent, who has done a great deal of work with the Arizona K12 Center, suggested the Center as the perfect host for a Mobile Learning Experience.

“The Arizona K12 Center is fantastic with this kind of event,” Burdick said. “All the little details Tony and I never would have thought of, they’re on top of.” The conference, now in its third year, continues to attract larger and larger crowds. There were 200 attendees the first year, but Burdick hopes that number will swell to about 400 this year.

Participants will be treated to a wide variety of learning activities, according to Vincent and Burdick. “The main feature is that we have dozens of breakout sessions presented by people from all over the world,” Vincent said. In addition to those sessions, which will cover topics from Common Core State Standards to Project-Based Learning and Beyond, the conference will feature a keynote speaker every day. Each of them will share expertise in an aspect of mobile learning. “We just think we have some of the best people,” Vincent said of the keynote speakers. There will also be an Ignite session, where participants will give five-minute presentations on a mobile technology or learning topic of their choice. “You get quite a few perspectives in a short time with those sessions,” he said.

Vincent also noted that simply meeting like-minded professionals is a huge benefit of attending. “Networking is a big deal, too,” he said. “That’s super powerful for those that attend. Most of the learning happens when different, great people get together who have great ideas and share them.”

Sharon Ewers, the Librarian at Arcadia High School and the lead Librarian for the Scottsdale Unified School District, has been attending the Mobile Learning Experience since its inception in 2011. “Our school sent 12 to 15 teachers to Mobile in 2011, and our attendance at that conference really changed the culture at our school,” she said. “We said, ‘We HAVE to take the ball and run with this.’” The educators that attended the conference led the district in embedding mobile technology into the curriculum. The following year, several past attendees from Arcadia presented at Mobile 2012, sharing the school and district’s experiences and approach to embedding mobile technology.

Ewers is looking forward to attending and presenting at this year’s event, as well. “The lineup for this year is tremendous,” she said. “There’s a wonderful array of sessions.”

“It’s so energizing to go to something like this,” she added. “It gives teachers the confidence to go back and talk to other teachers and administrators and get support.”

What’s New in Mobile Technology?

An exciting aspect of the Mobile Learning Experience is just how cutting edge the discussions will be. Burdick noted that, in addition to discussing mainstays like devices—from iPads to smartphones and beyond—and apps, the conversations this year will also focus on newer developments, such as Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) and open content. Both are set to change the way educators use mobile technology in the classroom.

Because of the ubiquity of devices in students’ lives, BYOT is becoming a viable and useful option for classrooms. “(BYOT) opens the door for even more schools and lessens the financial burden for schools,” Burdick said. She added that, because students generally come in with more up-to-date and newer devices, schools don’t have to worry about having obsolete mobile technology on their hands every few years.

Similarly, open educational resources like Project Gutenberg will change the way students access information in and out of the classroom. “You can find anything that’s in a textbook for free,” Burdick said. “Where textbook adoption would cost millions, schools can save that using free resources on the Internet. Teachers can use (these resources) in lieu of a textbook, and they also allow for more personalized learning. The teacher puts up guideposts for instruction, but the student goes and finds the answers.”

According to Susan Wells, the ISTE SIGML President and a School-Based Administrator at Durham Public Schools in Durham, NC, the innovations being made in mobile technology go far beyond even the most advanced devices currently being used in most classrooms, which makes events that focus on looking ahead when it comes to mobile learning vital. For example, she noted, “What we’re watching now is mobile learning as ‘wearable.’ It’s even more mobile and certainly smaller. What’s that going to mean in terms of teaching and learning? How will that impact us?” She said both Google Glass and Apple’s rumored smart watches would profoundly change what sorts of technology students are bringing into classrooms. “We’re not sure exactly how that will look or how it will impact students’ lives when their device is on them all the time. We don’t know yet but it will impact us,” she added.

Wells said that part of meeting the challenges of what’s to come in mobile learning has to do with building respectful learning communities encompassing teachers and students. She believes educators are going to begin to have to ask themselves, more than ever, how a community of learners can come together and address challenges like privacy and respect when teachers are no longer going to simply be able to tell students to turn their devices off.

She added that, because of mobile technology, the relationship between educators and learners is likely to fundamentally change. “I think those relationships are changing already, between teacher and learner,” she said. “We’re already to the idea of coaching. In our best classrooms, it’s already changed to a coaching relationship, to a side-by-side relationship.” One of the chief subjects being covered at the Mobile Learning Experience, Project-Based Learning, will help to address these changing relationships, according to Wells. “We need to see teaching spaces as places of discovery,” she said.

Exciting Keynotes: From Educators, for Educators

The 2013 Mobile Learning Experience will feature a speaker each day who will shed light on particularly exciting areas of mobile technology in education. Dr. Tim Clark, Peggy Sheehy and Dean Shareski are this year’s keynote speakers, and each will bring an exceptional amount of experience and vision to the event.

Clark, the Coordinator of Instructional Technology in Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, was part of the earliest adoption of BYOT/BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). His district was among the first to implement this type of program district-wide; it is now going on its sixth year with BYOT. Forsyth has been a trailblazing district in many areas of educational technology, with a long-standing reputation for technology initiatives, making Clark an excellent source of inspiration and practical knowledge for conference attendees.

Like Wells, Clark said he believes that, as mobile technology, especially those devices that students themselves own and to which they are attached, becomes a mainstay in all classrooms, educators need to work on community-building. “The first thing for a teacher to do is develop a community in the classroom that supports all kinds of learning, with Project-Based Learning, differentiation of assignments, digital citizenship, and responsibility,” he said. “You have to have that community in the classroom.” He also said that it’s important to acknowledge just how connected students are to their devices. “When kids do bring devices, they need time to share about them,” he said. “They’re personally connected to this technology.”

Clark has exciting plans for his keynote at the Mobile Learning Experience. “I think I really want to focus in on the needs of digital-age learners in a mobile society,” he said. “That power of being a producer of content and not just a consumer is one of the big shifts. Now that (students) have a creation tool in their pockets, it’s no longer enough to consume content; they want to create it, too.”

Sheehy brings another exciting perspective to the event. She has been a pioneer in both games in education and gamification of instruction. In 2006, her district supported establishing a presence in Second Life for middle-school students—the first program of its kind—addressing every aspect of the curriculum through Project-Based Learning in virtual worlds. Later, her focus shifted to video games, and especially massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft. “In those first few months of exploring World of Warcraft, I thought, ‘Gosh, this is perfectly scaffolded as learning. It’s teaching me how to play as I play it. The principles of learning are embedded natively in this game,’” Sheehy said. “Why can’t that become part of our pedagogical approach?” She has worked with World of Warcraft in a variety of different capacities to help with everything from social-emotional development in at-risk students to teaching an innovative, game- and companion-novel-based English/Language Arts course.

In addition to her groundbreaking work with gaming in education, Sheehy also brings an expertise in gamification to the Mobile Learning Experience. This concept involves introducing a gaming mentality—with elements such as what keeps players playing, what rewards work and when, and similar concepts—into a non-gaming environment like education.

“What I’ll be speaking to at the Mobile Learning Experience is explaining why games are important and what happens when you enter a play state,” Sheehy said. “I walk around the outskirts of neuroscience to explain what I have managed to see in practice.” She added that gamification does not mean “slapping a leaderboard on a tired curriculum,” but rather that it requires deep, introspective application of gaming concepts to teaching and learning. “There needs to be an intrinsic connection to the learning,” she said. “It’s tricky. You need to delve deep.”

The keynote speaker for the conference’s last day brings yet another special set of skills and experiences to the Mobile Learning Experience. Dean Shareski is the Community Manager for Discovery Education Canada, which creates multimedia curriculum-based content for schools. His role is in supporting teachers, connecting them, writing resources for them, and helping them in other ways, as needs arise. He is also a former teacher and Digital Learning Consultant.

“The thing I’ve been paying attention to is in the area of storytelling,” he said. “A new idea is ‘story making,’ which encompasses the ways in which we are using various apps, where we’re going beyond just capturing images or video and putting them in the new context of storytelling.”

He said mobile and digital technologies are changing the entire concept of literacy and the way teachers address it. “Literacy goes way beyond reading and writing with text,” he said. “We have to think differently about what communication skills are, and how we tell and make stories.”

Shareski believes that events like the Mobile Learning Experience are important because, as ubiquitous as devices like smartphones are becoming in students’ lives, many schools still have things like ‘no cell phone’ policies. “Most of our teachers are not ready to use these devices in their classrooms,” he said. “Conferences like this help to send a message to the broader community that these things are not just a fad. They’re really powerful tools and can provide new ways of learning that we’ve never seen before.”

“We must have a broader understanding and appreciation for what this stuff does,” he added.

Like the keynote speakers, Wells believes conferences like the Mobile Learning Experience provide a powerful opportunity for educators not just to learn from experts, but to bring their learning back to their communities and share it. “We have these conferences so that all of us can come back and say, ‘Let me tell you what’s out there. Let me tell you what I just learned,’” she said.

Learn more and register for the Mobile Learning Experience 2013.