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It's the Learning, Stupid! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Graham Brown-Martin on Saturday, 01 March 2008
handheldA thirteen year old from Peckham taught me a new word this week. We'd been looking at some new devices from gaming tech to the new breed of ultra low cost laptops when he said of one particular model, "that's not a laptop, it's a craptop". Perhaps a little harsh but it did get me thinking about young peopleís relationship with technology.

My 7 year old, a keen iBook owner, an iPhone want-to-have and Nintendo Wii demon, is quite taken with the RM miniBook / Asus EEE PC wanting one in pink to go with her DS. She's not especially unusual in her collection or interest in gadgets, many of her friends from the same inner city primary are hooked. Unfortunately none of these devices can be taken and used in school so any learning with them is performed outside hours with little motivation to share it at school.

The argument about technology being embedded in the lives of learners has been rehearsed many times in these forums and at our conferences. So let's not dwell on whether we want to call these learners "digital natives" less the fogies that are clinging on to their respeck get offended. Let's accept the principle that these guys wear their tech like clothes. By this I mean they take it for granted and use it/abuse it, often in ways that previous generations haven't considered. Also like clothes their gadgetry and use of tech are used as identifiers of trend, fashion and tribe.


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The launch of ultra low cost laptops in the UK, started by RM at our last conference and followed by others priced as low as £99, has sparked a huge amount of interest as some people practically wet themselves at the price tag. The best quotes Iíve read recently were along the lines that the specifications didnít matter because of the price. So thatís ok then, in which case letís dust off the ZX Spectrumís and connect them to a digital picture frame. More worrying was some marketing spin that proposed such devices were intended to ďintegrate them [children] into the modern digital world that we all belong to.Ē

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So are these devices intended to appeal to learners or budget holders?



It seems to me that if weíre not careful weíre simply imposing a model that already isnít working on a constituency that lost interest a long time ago. Because, trust me, many of these children are already operating in a digital world far in advance of their educators.

Digital inclusion is great but whom are we aiming to include?

/morrissey.jpgBy way of excavating a shaky analogy letís go back in time to the heyday of National Health Service spectacles. Free eye tests and spectacles from a limited range should you require them. Although those frames from the 60ís and 70ís now have a sort of geek charm as a consequence of artists such as Morrissey, at the time many children hated them. They came in two flavours; black for boys, pink for girls neither looking good and easy to break. Those whose parents could afford it had nicer glasses, immediately creating a social marker or even a divide.

How might this work in the provision of a device for every learner to achieve digital inclusion?

Would we allow learners to choose between a free basic device and a better one, if parents have the money?

Some might argue that every learner should have the exactly the same device but wouldnít this fly in the face of a personalised learning agenda which surely implies a personalised device and Iím not talking about a choice of casework colours here. The NHS analogy crumbles when you consider that both types of glasses, when not broken, allow the wearer to see to the same standard.

Now, donít misunderstand me. Iím genuinely excited about all these new devices that will soon compete with a slew of inexpensive Mobile Internet Devices or MIDs, as theyíre unfortunately called. As mentioned in one of my forum postings Iím fully expecting to see a campaign where kids get a device free with a Happy Meal as long as they donít mind getting a 15 second streamed commercial every time they switch on. Given that many young people now spend at least as much time using the net as watching TV this would represent highly cost effective advertising. Itís already happened in the mobile phone world with Blyk while Carphone Warehouse offer free laptops with broadband or phone contracts. Indeed, many mobile phone resellers realised over the Christmas sales period that customers were more interested in the free Sony PSP, PS3 or Nintendo Wii they would be getting with the phone contract than the phone itself.



This is a great disruptive period but it has focussed attention on technology rather than learning. Thereís a prevalent assumption that low spec, low cost devices for all will effect a step change in new and innovative teaching methods and therefore learning.

Iím not convinced.

The efficacy of VLEís is far from proven and if these devices are intended to be web-content delivery vehicles I canít see how the imagination of our young learners or our lippy teenager in Peckham will be wrestled away from the digital world they inhabit today yet alone tomorrow.

I wonder why we would want to wrestle them away at all when we could enter and embrace their world, let them use the tools they are most comfortable with to match their learning style. Stifled by prohibition the impact of consumer electronics and entertainment software is only just beginning to be felt in the formal education world. The immersion experienced by todayís young people has already raised their expectation level; it would be a shame to disappoint them.



Thereís so much more affordable technology around now than there was when we started over 4 years ago and called ourselves ďHandheld LearningĒ when the choice was between a PDA and an expensive laptop. But many of the questions still remain, the principle one being how can the availability of this technology, regardless of whether itís handheld or ubiquitous, positively affect learning?

Because if it doesnít achieve this, itís just tin.

Graham Brown-Martin is the founder of Handheld Learning

Comments and discussion are welcomed.

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Comments from the forum:
It`s the Learning, Stupid!
jont    March 1st, 2008 - 8:25 AM
We found that social factors are a very big influence on whether devices are used...So is the _perceived_ age of a device. If it looks old tech then for the fashion conscious it _is_ old tech.  I think for many of "the kids" hey see technology as being cheap and disposable.

Not sure at what price there is a division between "throw about, throw away"(ta-ta its gone time to buy another one)  technology (like the way we treat phones) and laptops and other stuff that needs looking after.

(side note . tablets...slaptops....the other phrase we use for specific manufacturers )

Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
Spike Town    March 7th, 2008 - 9:34 AM
I believe that Angela McFarlane referred to some research at your conference in 2006 (or was it an NCSL event?? anyway...) that children from more affluent homes tend to value specific educational devices less than children from more deprived areas. The analysis seemed to be that in more affluent homes an educational device is just one of many devices and is not seen, or indeed treated, as something special. In poorer homes the device may be the ONLY bit of high tech kit and is valued by the whole family. The learning2go project seemed to reinforce this point from the information I've seen. Does anybody know where that research is?

From my own experiences it would seem that attitude to learning is the KEY point in all of this. We have got primary children working with a range of smartphone devices in a range of geographical areas and children who are apathetic to school...remain apathetic to school once the novelty of the new toy has worn off. We can liberate learners til the cows come home but attitude and motivation underlie effective learning. I would say that the devices have turned some apathetic learners onto learning, possibly because the change in teaching/learning activities is more to their liking but many who are disaffected remain so. That, however, is a larger debate about the nature of education and culture in England today!
Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
martinowen    March 7th, 2008 - 6:07 PM
Graham _ I am with you - lets not short change  our children.

However an aisde observation about the OX in particular.

The pre-load software makes big assumptions about the purpose of the OLPC. It has come from a lab that firmly believes in Constructionist Learning as the applications testify. I happen to like that - the system is born out of a philosophy. Those who I have spoken to in Brazil who are experiencing "as it was intended to be"  speak highly of it.

However this is not entirely the case. The Telecomms ministry who may be responsible for introducing the system into Haiti  may want cut down business apps. I know the competition in Brazil is also touting the fact that they run Open Office - and in turn characterizing the purpose of learning to use computers in school as highly instrumental.

What we need to avoid is "it's the stupid learning".
Martin
It`s the Learning, Stupid!
glassy    March 8th, 2008 - 5:46 PM
These sort of projects are not just switching children on to learning they are transforming learning.  As part of the innov8ed cluster in Warrington, we are using home to school samsung q1s, They are changing the way teacher's teach and the way learner's learn They are changing the spaces we need in school and they are essential to the childrens future economic well being.
They are holding childrens attention in a rapidly changing world and as long as you think very carefully what you want the device to do and then double it, because the children will think of at least twice as many things, then you will get the learning right.
Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
Graham    March 9th, 2008 - 3:37 PM
I believe that Angela McFarlane referred to some research at your conference in 2006 (or was it an NCSL event?? anyway...) that children from more affluent homes tend to value specific educational devices less than children from more deprived areas. The analysis seemed to be that in more affluent homes an educational device is just one of many devices and is not seen, or indeed treated, as something special. In poorer homes the device may be the ONLY bit of high tech kit and is valued by the whole family. The learning2go project seemed to reinforce this point from the information I've seen. Does anybody know where that research is?

From my own experiences it would seem that attitude to learning is the KEY point in all of this. We have got primary children working with a range of smartphone devices in a range of geographical areas and children who are apathetic to school...remain apathetic to school once the novelty of the new toy has worn off. We can liberate learners til the cows come home but attitude and motivation underlie effective learning. I would say that the devices have turned some apathetic learners onto learning, possibly because the change in teaching/learning activities is more to their liking but many who are disaffected remain so. That, however, is a larger debate about the nature of education and culture in England today!

Hi Spike Town

Far be it for me to question our learned colleagues in academia however "one swallow does not make a summer" as our other learned friend Aristotle once said.

I think we should treat research that reinforces sociological stereotypes with some caution, at least until there have been sufficient studies. The convenient notion of the spoilt affluent middle-class who quickly lose interest in a new "toy" versus the poor disaffected under-class who bestows untold value on the "learning device" is troubling in my mind. From my, albeit anecdotal, experience you'd have to travel quite a long way up the so called affluence ladder before you discover an en masse treatment of an investment in technology as some sort of frippery. Likewise I'm wondering how far down the affluence ladder you travel before we get to the family described as giving extra value to a new device? Is this a family that doesn't have a TV? Or doesn't have satellite or cable TV? Do they have a mobile phone or a modern game console?

Again, I can only speak from anecdotal experience working in my local areas of Peckham, Deptford, Lewisham and Newham where you have a considerable social and cultural mix but from this I have seen what would one would consider low affluent households where children are avid PSP users as well as theoretically affluent households where parents have also struggled to fund modern technology for the younger members of the house. perhaps I'm blinkered and fooling myself but I have yet to see any social group own the exclusivity on placing a value or not on new gadgets entering the home. There are inevitably many other factors at play.

I think you're absolutely right, Spike Town, that the attitude to learning is the critical thing. At risk of not being politically correct there does seem to be amongst some parents, across all social groups, that it is the schools responsibility to socialise and inspire in them the desire to learn. These parents would be wise to notice the evidence of children where parents are active in their education do better even in poorly performing schools. And you're quite right, if parents don't care, the children won't and it will take a lot more than throwing technology at it to transform that problem.


Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
Spike Town    March 10th, 2008 - 8:58 AM
Hi Graham,

Yes I agree it is more complex than that and the more projects and experiences that we have feedback on, the more we will become more confident in our assumptions. That is why I take note when an academic refers to referenced, peer reviewed research....

However, your experiences add useful detail to my own experience. Some of the children I work with are in a very deprived ward (bottom ten in UK i believe)  and by and large are very careful over their devices and love to use them. Within the group though are several children who just aren't bothered. I don't know what their home circumstance is (I would imagine a TV, maybe a games console, probs not a computer - 'll try and find out) but they don't care about the device much. Yes it gives them some status but their attitude to using it for school is barely enhanced and the teacher is excellent. the kids have access to ebooks, a class blog, online games and activities and a place where they can store work. But a few of the kids just aren't that bothered.

I also have a project in a much less deprived area where every child almost certainly has broadband, a PS2 or 3, Wii, etc. In that class the children are definitely more apathetic to the devices, no question. Many forget to bring them, they are often uncharged for the school day etc. Now finding out what causes that, is it the change in the children's circumstances? Different school experience? Simply a different set of kids? i don't know because we simply don't have the weight of evidence but it is certainly something to take note of. So debates like this are essential in relating other people's experiences so that we have a greater amount of evidence to draw from...hmmm I feel a PhD coming on! lol

ST
Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
Graham    March 12th, 2008 - 3:26 PM
Hi ST

My point is that doesn't really matter if the research is referenced, peer-reviewed or blind peer-reviewed, if there are insufficient studies we have little to go on. This is certainly not a criticism of our academics but more of a call to action to get more initiatives going. Tony Parkin, Head of ICT Development, Specialist Schools and Academies Trust said at the Handheld Learning 2006 Conference that "there were so many pilots it's a wonder why the plane hasn't taken off yet!". This is a crucial point, there are lot of practitioners, many of whom are members of this community, who are working unaided and getting results yet, apart from agencies sending swat teams to shoot videos and photo's for web site's, presentations and annual reports, are receiving precious little (unlike, for example, the IWB initiative) by way of concerted support.

Your last paragraph raises a good point. If these learners expectations have been raised by the supercomputer power of modern gaming consoles then it's no wonder that they power down when confronted with what by comparison appears to be a mickey mouse toy. Review this clip from the Nintendo Wii title "Endless Ocean" as included in the original article.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/HrJqBAOBTXA&amp;rel=0" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/v/HrJqBAOBTXA&rel=0</a>

I'm wondering how a learner used to this kind of experience adjusts to "traditional" ICT experiences?

Cheers

Graham
Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
drobertson    March 21st, 2008 - 10:14 PM
Endless Ocean offers endless opportunities for learning. What a resource and what an experience! We are about to put this in a number of schools in Scotland. the teachers that I have shown this to have shared my appreciation of this resource as a tool that could encourage writing and possibly environmental studies. The Panini book style of the silhouettes of the fish/creatures that you discover are a great incentive to explore and learn. Will come back to the forum when the project kicks off.
Re: It`s the Learning, Stupid!
wolfluecker    March 22nd, 2008 - 10:53 AM
Endless Ocean, what a triumph. I play it with my 3 and a half year old - she hasn't got any robots or handheld devices though, Mr Prensky, sorry - and she absolutely loves it. She likes to hear the fish names and when we went to an aquarium, she even remembered some of them. A great extension to books and other creative toys.

It's so well-designed and produced as well, which you notice in particular when you look at similar games. I bought 'Arctic Tale' which is endorsed by National Geographic and it's appalling in comparison. Badly programmed (crashed the Wii three times so far), poorly rendered environments and creatures, odd narrative (if there is one) and rather restricted gameplay. There is so much more room for free exploration in Endless Ocean.

Not sure about the length of the lady's shorts though...

Wolf.

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