Should we ban mobile phones in school?

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It seems that the hardest part of writing any research is coming up with a good title.

Earlier this month King & Baatartogtokh published a paper examining the theory of disruptive innovation that was made famous in the book The Innovators Dilemma. They found (8 years after publication..) that less than 10% of the case studies cited in what has become something of a management bible actually demonstrated the theory in action. Their paper shifted ‘disruptive innovation’ from being a goal all companies should aim at to an observation that occurs in rare cases.

It should have been huge news, but they gave their work the less than exciting title of ‘How Useful is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation‘ and nobody seems to have paid much attention.

In the ed tech space we seem to be going through a phase of coming up with more sensationalist titles and abstracts to get work noticed.

The problem with this is people still don’t seem to be reading the papers, but instead come up with a version of what they think it might say based on a few lines at the start.

Which is nice.

The recent media hype around banning mobile phones is a pretty good example of this. Tracing back, it seems the source is a Centre for Economic Performance paper published in May.

They went with a fairly neutral title of ‘Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction and Student Performance’. But there’s a couple of lines in the  abstract that suggest something bigger is within:

“…we find that student performance in high stakes exams significantly increases post ban.”

“results indicate that these increases in performance are driven by the lowest achieving students.”

And they finish it off with:

“restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities.”

All of which sounds like we should be rethinking our policy of allowing smartphones in lessons.

The study itself is interesting, and the method is strong. They have a large data set (91 schools) and have controlled for other variables (such as policy or leadership change) that might have had an impact on results.

The impressive results show an improvement in test scores of 6.41% of a standard deviation for the student body as a whole, 14.23% for students in the lowest quartile of prior achievement gain after a mobile phone ban.

But what is missing in the coverage of this story that I saw is the nature of mobile usage in these schools before the ban. The key line from the conclusion:

“these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.”

Somewhat less eye catching than where we started.

What I take away from this study is that students will become distracted if not engaged in their task (whether that task includes ‘technology’ or not), and that smart phones are distracting things. But, while the research did find that a ban had an impact in these schools they also acknowledge that making use of the tools for learning could do the same.

Certainly a ban would be easier to implement than the kind of large scale curriculum redesign and training required to include smartphones in lessons, but this paper shouldn’t discourage schools who have started down the BYOD route. Mobile devices could be a distraction and there are certainly lessons where they should remain switched off, but they could equally be used for good too.

Read the full discussion paper here.
Great coverage of The Innovators Dilemma story at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Go read.
Image CC licensed on Flickr by JapanExperterna.se

 

IFTTT Do & the slow death of the digital camera

I’ve been playing with the new IFTTT camera app and it got me thinking about how the original camera app on my iPhone isn’t as useful as it used to be. After all, it’s just a camera app. If I want it to actually do anything with the photo I’ve taken I have to tell it what to do. By pressing more buttons. How very 2014.

If you haven’t already seen it, IFTTT Do is a set of apps that extend the original IFTTT idea where you provide some simple rules and the software automates them. For example, if I take a photo of a receipt it automatically puts it into my expenses folder in GDrive, a photo of the little monster doing will end up in a shared album for my family. It does what computers do well and automates repetitive manual tasks.

This made me wonder what the market for old school digital cameras was looking like. According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association sales are looking pretty much as you’d expect. Heading down:

Total shipment

Looking at our internal logging we see the same with equipment our staff and students are using for taking photos. Data here is for every booking made to our central equipment pool for activities related to photography:

bookings

And, on a more anecdotal note the images on the SD card inside my digital camera have been there for months. There are things from October last year that are really nice but I just haven’t got round to getting them imported.

The reason why I haven’t taken the photos off my camera, why staff & students are borrowing increasingly more iPod Touch, and (I guess) why IFTTT Do exists is that in the main we don’t like the middle steps in the process.

Does that mean our ever smarter ways of working are great because we’re streamlining our processes? We’re more efficiently arriving at our goal with less time wasted on the unnecessary.

Or should we worry about what we’re losing?

By using a smartphone rather than a digital SLR I’m thinking less about shot composition, learning nothing about all the variables that go in to creating a good shot.

Not doing any edits on those pictures takes away a whole load of graphics skills that are easily transferrable to other projects. I might not have learned Photoshop if all I ever did was share pictures from a smartphone.

If the photos never leave the camera roll of your smart device are you sure you know where they are? Are they backed up? Who can see them? Do you even own them? Maybe you’re the next poster family for the anti-gay marriage lobby.

Automating the distribution process seems like it could take the personal touch out, remove an element of control, maybe even proper consideration of the how/what/why of sharing.

Personally I’m finding the IFTTT apps really useful. They’re time savers and fit nicely into my work style. But in our drive for efficiency I wonder what learning opportunities we’re taking away.

I like that I can spend less time faffing with low value pictures and leisure time with my SLR but is that a reflection of the market? Sales don’t suggest it. Will this be the usual routine of sales drop, prices rise, less people can take part in the hobby? Feels like a potentially risky time for the field.

Bringing our own devices

We’ve been working our way along the development curve of moving the school to #byod. If it’s a new idea to you, what we are trying to achieve is an environment where any user can bring any device they like to school and access all the services they require using it.

It seems to me to be absolutely the correct way forward. In the same way we don’t force every student to study Spanish, why should we make them all use the same computer? It’s about personalisation, and it’s about flexibility.

This is clearly not one of those changes that can happen overnight, and at the request of @eylanezekiel I wanted to try and write up what we are doing. I’m not suggesting this is the best, or only, way to achieve it, and we are learning and modifying this plan as we go. We are always open to comments, questions and suggestions, and we’d be happy to support any others that would like to head down this path too.

What we have done so far:

1) Talk to the students

We did this in plenty of informal situations, but also used our student ICT school improvement group to more formally survey the student population about student owned devices. This group then collated the results, wrote a draft AUP for allowing students to use their devices in school, and then pitched it to SLT, staff, students and governors. These guys are brilliant. You should all have a group like this.

2) Developed our policies

#byod is a culture change, but the reasons why are clear and you can be controlled about it. This isn’t some big free for all, your lesson isn’t constantly interrupted by ringing phones, etc. It is down to the individual staff member, guided by the department heads to choose which/when/how in a lesson electronic devices can be used.

3) Opened up limited parts network & started the move to the cloud

@jamesyale is the technical genius on the team for those who want detail, but our standard wireless now allows a user to connect any device, providing they enter their school username and password. Access is still restricted and filtered in all the ways you would expect, and the username/password allows us to log use, develop different rules for staff, etc, etc.

We also made the jump over to Google Apps. There are other ways to do this, but it is the start of our development to become platform, as well as device agnostic. It’s that flexibility word again.

4) Built a genius bar!

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Well, sort of (photo is from work in progress during the summer)… We are lucky in terms of student devices. The vast majority of our kids carry an array of technology that would make IBM envious. But, equality of access is really very important to us. The new genius bar, among other things, provides the backup devices. Maybe a staff member wants every student in one lesson to have a specific piece of technology- the bar can provide loan kit for these. Perhaps they need a few extra iPods to give to students who don’t have a similar device for a particular task. The bar provides a loan pool with a booking system to supplement student owned devices. It also provides a constant staff presence who can support and inspire users. I’ll post again later in the term about this as it warrants a little more detail.

5) Engaged the staff

Our new techs AST is the absolute key here. @ribbk and the members of our staff ICT school improvement group are tasked with sharing good practice and supporting our others with new technologies. They organise regular learning focused, sessions supporting teachers using the technology and build confidence. And, they are key members in their departments for a lead on new technologies.

The other hugely important thing our staff and student groups do is plan the future. Can you teach outstanding lessons on a tablet device? Will coursework marks be higher if the content is blogged? Can twitter improve engagement in X set in Y subject? And so on. Every year members of these groups take on action research projects, and using measured results we can not only make good purchasing decisions, but help mould our curriculum.

I said it before, but your school should have these groups.

What is coming next:

1) Unmanaged wireless

A bit techy I’m afraid. One of the limitations of the wireless access is it doesn’t allow device to device communication. Good for security, bad for playing each other at DS games and so on. Our current intention is to put up a second unmanaged network to allow for this when required.

2) Building up the genius bar

We are starting to see what is popular, what we need more of. It is also teaching us new ways of supporting and training our users in more informal learning situations.

3) Student loans at the bar

Wouldn’t it be great if students could loan kit themselves? A teacher formally signing out is a step in the right direction. But, as a student being able to drop into the bar at lunch to pick up a camera because I want to document my artwork next lesson and forgot my Blackberry (unlikely, I know…) would be perfect.

4)The 1-1 scheme

This is the big picture, long term goal part. I’m either a genius or mad, but the vision makes complete sense to me.

The clear weakness of stopping where we currently are in the process is while the loan kit props up those without, it’s not good enough.

I’m a fan of the 1-1 schemes that are appearing, some really nice implementations in schools local to us. Giving a student access to a digital tool of some description with the potential to enhance their learning in every lesson is just great.

But I don’t want to tell every student the way they learn best is with X brand of laptop, or even Y type of device.

The 1-1 scheme that we are building is one where (guided by our staff and student SIGs) our stakeholders can make informed choices about the device that best suits them, and we can support them in purchasing this in all the standard ways you see with other device specific 1-1s.

Backed up by our loan pools it means we can personalise student owned devices, but still offer the flexibility of all the other tools if what they have isn’t ideal for that moment in time.

Or, if my battery runs out I can drop mine in to be charged and grab a backup device while that happens.

Or, I could pick up some extra kit to take home because I wanted to challenge my Dad to that maths game we were playing in lesson.

For those working in the area you’ll see the challenges in going down this route compared to the standard 1-1. But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother.

So, that’s where we are. I’d say we’re about halfway through the process.

The important takeaway if you managed to read this far is we measure. The SIGs test the theory, prove the benefit to teaching and learning (or in some cases the opposite), we move from there. We’re still planning the final stages, and will only go there if our research tells us we should. I’m the lucky one that gets to blah on about vision and go to some very shiny events for inspiration, but the structure alongside is what will get us there.

I’m also lucky enough to be in a position where we can work with others who share our vision. If you still don’t think I’m mad we should probably be working together!

Who is borrowing our equipment?

One of the reasons we shifted to doing all of the bookings for our new techs kit online is it would allow us to track what was being used. After (almost) a term I’ve gone back to have a look at that data, this is what we found.

The new techs booking form only covers certain equipment. The standard booking of IT suites or laptops doesn’t feature here, and we haven’t been tracking how departments are using their own equipment (maths have a set of Nintendo DS for example).

Since shifting to online booking at the end of September:

  • Nearly 40% of staff have booked something for a lesson
  • We have taken an average of 20 bookings a week
  • Only 12% of bookings asked for technical support during the lesson
  • Our set of laptops with cameras and stop frame animation software is by far the most popular booking
  • The iPod Touch is significantly more popular than the Macbook

Very pleased with all of that, particularly the confidence that our staff are starting to show in using new technologies.

Next step is to try and keep track of all the good things that they are doing with it. We want to be able to share good practice here as well as just look for patterns in the data.

Our ICT SIG document their work on the blog, but beyond there we don’t formally keep tabs on what people are doing. Thinking an addition to the booking form to ask staff to quickly describe what they are using it for would sort this without demanding too much extra time to fill in.

Image source- Macbook, CC licensed on Flickr by goobimama

Apple Mobility Seminar- iPods in School

Last week I was invited to attend this event up at the Apple offices in London. As has been documented here recently we’re very interested in how best we use handheld devices in the school, and this appeared to offer us some information on how they would go about achieving this. The notes below are my edited highlights, do ask if I’ve missed anything.

The first half of the day was spent discussing Mac setups in schools- authenticating Macs to AD, controlling permissions, shares, access, etc. None of this is really new information as we’ve had Macs on the network for a few years now, but I was surprised at just how few others seemed to really have their Macs integrated into their school networks. It’s honestly not difficult, particularly under the newest OS. I think this probably more accurately reflects how schools in general don’t have the expertise in this area, or the time/confidence to try it. We’ve been working on this for a while and always happy to support others who are interested, but I think a description of how we integrate the Macs is probably a separate post.

Notes from the session:

  • Apple see two possible setups for iPod Touch/iPhone in school. Student owned devices and school owned sets.
    • Student owned devices
      • Syncs to iTunes on the students home computer
      • Enabled for disc use so students can copy documents/etc on to it at school
      • Can make use of network profiles to roll out school wireless settings (see point below about this for a major issue)
      • School owned sets
        • The school has sets of devices that it distributes for lessons
        • Larger docks like Parasync can be used for charging/syncing (we now have one to trial so update to follow)
        • Students can’t keep files on them as the units are given back after each lesson
        • Syncing back to iTunes puts them back to original settings
  • The latest version of iTunes breaks the connection with the Parasync dock. Don’t update…
  • There is no way to sync/image multiple iPod Touches. You have to set each up and sync it. Probably manageable with a half class set but not if you have a few hundred. There is no better way, they acknowledge it isn’t ideal.
  • It is possible to distribute a profile via email/wireless/etc that contains all the correct network settings for your school so students don’t need to enter proxy settings and things. This is so close to being a really good idea. However, these apply to the device as a whole rather than the network it is connected to so messes up your home wireless connection/etc. Good if the device stays in school though.
  • Data only plans for the iPhone are something people would like. No real comment on this, but it is worth noting that the data only plans for iPad appeared yesterday. Personally, not convinced about iPhone in preference to iPod Touch for school owned devices but always open to ideas.
  • They seemed to be pushing people towards creating web-apps rather than specific apps for iPod. This makes some sense for us in terms of being cross platform.
  • Some good stuff about deployment on the apple site here.

Overall, a little disappointing to find what we suspected. There is no easy way to bulk manage devices we own at the moment. We’re going to invest a little bit of time this term in properly exploring this- I’m sure there must be a way to image the devices in bulk, just maybe not using iTunes. The positive is Apple host these sessions in order to find out what schools want, so will keep my fingers crossed for a future update. Really feels like they are close to having this being genuinely useful, if you’re listening Apple come and ask!

Student owned devices does seem to be a more realistic option, and our trial with the students seems to prove this beyond the tech. Students don’t really seem to want to connect them to computers in the school either, passing files around in other ways so this isn’t a major issue. Seems to reaffirm my opinion that we are heading in the right direction with individual devices for each user rather than large loan pools of equipment.