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The Five Pillars of Mobile Learning

Today, I would like to put forward a model for the introduction of mobile learning. This is partly based on my research, and partly based on wide reading of blogs, articles about mobile learning and anecdotal evidence from conferences and speaking to those involved.

My model is based on 5 pillars, which stand together to support the school’s vision. The school needs to have an overall vision. The vision will be supported by 5 key areas. There may be more, and I’m open to debate and persuasion, but these are the key ones that I have identified.

5 pillars of mobile learning












Each of these will be discussed in significantly more detail in later blog posts, but I will just discuss each briefly now:

Technical infrastructure: The school needs to have adequate (and ideally better than just adequate) wireless access and  sufficient broadband. The best comment I have heard about technical infrstructure was from Mark Howell (Meru Networks). He said that teachers and pupils don’t care about wireless – they just want it to work. It should be like a tap – turn it on and the water flows.

Appropriate Hardware and Management – Big decision time. Which devices will you use, how will they be supplied, managed and maintained?

Appropriate software and apps – A device is nothing in itself except a lump of metal and plastic. It is what you use on it (see previous post on ‘Which apps should I buy?’)and then the way that …..

Teacher skills and understanding – help pupils to make the most of the opportunities the device afford.

Over time, you will build and develop ‘pupil skills and understanding’, so that they become better at independent learning, use creativity in their work and learn to communicate and collaborate effectively.

These headings are in the order I have given for a particular reason. Without the infrastructure, there is no point having the devices. I have heard about a school that had devices with no internet connection, but as pupils list their number one resource as being the Internet, it does seem rather pointless to cut off that channel.

Pupils and teachers can not use the devices unless they are available and managed.

If you were to make a Gantt chart to plan for your introduction of a mobile learning strategy, there would be some overlay between the categories. In the best case scenarios I am seeing at the moment, teachers are getting the devices and becoming familiar with them ahead of the introduction for pupils. It depends whether you want to wade in at the shallow end with armbands on and learn to swim slowly, or jump in at the deep end, make a big splash and then risk that someone may drown in the process.

I do have a hypothetical example of a school where things did not go well. It may be a real school, but it serves to illustrate how the Five Pillars approach works:

5 pillars of mobile learning_broken











In this school, the Senior Management decided to allow Bring your Own Device. They consulted with parents and governors as part of the vision and they sent out a list to parents of which devices would be appropriate. Pupils arrived in school and proudly displayed the devices (which now could be on their desks instead of in their bags). In fact, 70% had already had devices anyway, so surely it made sense to allow their use. However, the teachers had not really been consulted. Some thought it was a good idea and some didn’t, but there was inconsistent use in lessons. Also, the technical department hadn’t really been consulted properly. The school already had wifi – but not sufficient coverage to manage 1100 new devices. The pupil devices kept losing the internet; pupils played games and messaged each other when they got bored in lessons; parents began to complain. The school felt it couldn’t go back on the decision now it had been made – and ended up with a big ‘salvage’ job, trying to create a proper vision to implement.

A later blog post looks at a new, more advanced model which we evolved for use with schools.



Presenting in the digital age

I was fortunate enough to speak at the BETT show a couple of weeks ago. I did have prior experience of speaking in this large, busy, international forum – but a few years ago. Since my last appearance, the world has gone thoroughly digital. Being an Educational Technology forum, it seemed that most of the audience had a Smart phone. Details of my talk had been flagged a few times on Twitter by my facilitator, who had been appointed by NAACE, the hosts for the event. My talk was entitled ‘Should pupils be allowed mobile devices in the classrom?‘ and it examined what 14-16 year olds are saying about the technology they use.

At the start, the hash-tag (#) for the talk was announced and I saw several people get their mobile phones ready. At one point whilst I was speaking, I thought someone was asking a question, and then realised they just had their mobile phone above everyone’s heads to take a photograph of one of my slides. Towards the end, the facilitator began to ask some of the questions that had been coming in on the Twitter feed.

Overall, I found the experience very exciting. Some people have contacted me on Twitter since the talk and asked further questions. It was rather disconcerting to see the cameras at first, but I quicky realised it just meant that people were interested. I think I felt a little uneasy as this was the first time I had shown my research data and I realised that without my ‘publishing’ it, the data was now ‘out there’ – where exactly, I had no idea as BETT is an open forum and anyone can walk in off the street. A couple of the ‘photographers’ have been extremely professional and contacted me for permission to use my work in a wider forum, and I am grateful for that.

Afterwards, reading the Twitter feed, made me feel that the audience had been fully engaged. I was very interested to see which ‘headlines’ they had picked out of the 45-minutes I was speaking. It gave me some pointers as to which areas to develop for future work as well.


If you are planning to speak and you know your audience will have access to mobile technology, you should consider the following:

1) Give a hastag for your talk at the start, maybe highlighting it on your first slide.

2) Make sure you have a facilitator who can monitor your twitter feed. It is impossible to do this and speak at the same time, so very useful if someone else can filter the messages.

3) Be aware that your slides may be photographed. If you don’t want your information going any further than the presentation room, issue a ‘No cameras’ message at the start of your talk. Otherwise, be aware that your slide could be on the Internet (without your name attached to it) in a matter of seconds. And, even if you ask for no cameras, there are no guarantees that no photos will be taken.

4) Review the tweets after the session: Interesting way to get feedback from your audience.

5) Put your talk on your blog? I have already been asked several times why my talk is not yet on my blog – and the simple fact is that I am unsure as to modern protocol. I used videos of pupils -and I don’t have their permission to be on the Internet, so I want to use transcripts instead. If I publish online, I think I rule out the possibility of the work being accepted by a journal at a later stage. Finally, and the real truth of the matter – I am writing it up for my Masters dissertation and most of my time is being spent on the dissertation. The talk for BETT was my early analysis and I would like whatever I publish finally to be the finished article…

So, apologies if you have come here looking for my BETT talk – you’ll just have to settle for my advice on presenting in the digital age instead for today.

A humiliating climbdown?

stash-1-506c57f6608a6Well, the education establishment has greeted Gove’s news of the abandonment of the English Baccalaureate with delight. And, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised it has been abandonned, nor am I surprised about the delight with which the news was greeted today.  The plans were always ill-conceived, reactionary and would not have been implemented within the timescale set. Labour hailed the news as a ‘humiliating climbdown’. What an extraordinary phrase to use. How about ‘a good piece of common sense thinking at last’?

It was on the 17th September that the announcement of the E-Bacc arrived and as more and more details have been revealed, the condemnation has grown. Michael Rosen in his ‘Letter from a curious parent’ ( puts forward an argument that the government sees failure is a necessary part of our society.

There was a part of the E-Bacc proposal which did seem to make sense: choosing just 1 exam board for each subject. When I was at school, it was well known that the ‘bright’ kids sat the Cambridge board, whereas those who were less likely to succeed sat ‘London’. I remember thinking it odd even then that we all ended up with an ‘O’ level although we had done quite different work for it. Surely if we are all running the same race, we should have the same course and the same end-point. It seems strange that there can be different courses, run over different terrains, all ending at the same point. But that does assume that one is looking at all the runners as being equal………

I was part of a very small number of people who sat ‘O’ levels and GCSEs. Most of my qualifications are ‘O’ levels, but I did sit one GCSE. It was in German in my lower sixth year. What was interesting was that I had sat French the year before. I got an ‘A’ in my French. When I sat the German exams, I felt my language was nowhere near the level of my French and mentally awarded myself a ‘C’ grade. When the results came out, I was surprised to find that I had obtained another ‘A’. In the selective school I was in, many of the pupils got ‘straight As’. Nowadays, in the same school, many of the pupils get straight A*s. It certainly felt as if there was a ‘grade slip’ – what was previously a B became an A, a C became a B etc.

Then I became a teacher. I quickly came to  realise that the GCSE was a very different beast to the ‘O’ level. It tested different skills. Whilst most of my eduacation had been about learning and regurgitating large amounts of material, the GCSE actually asked pupils  to do something with the information. I actually became fond of the GCSE in some ways because I could see practical applications. As a modern languages teacher, my rote-learning of ‘The little boy is soaked to the skin’ in French had been of little use when I went to work in a pizza restaurant in Paris. The GCSE would have stood me in far better stead.

A final examination places immense stress on pupils – and is a very unrealistic part of the world that we now live in. For my ‘A’ levels (in 1989), I had to write several 3-hour papers. I still have a strange lump on one finger from the pressure of my pen on that finger. And yet, I have never again had to write with that intensity or by hand since I left school. In fact, I can scarcely remember the last time I had to write by hand. My work now is all on a computer, tablet or phone.

Gove has said today that the GCSE must have ‘fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions and a reduced role for coursework’. This takes us backwards rather than forwards. In the research work I am doing, pupils are using mobile devices (whether allowed in school or not) to complete much of their work. Many pupils are telling me that they use videos or audio to record their work; they enjoy problem-solving; they thrive on collaborative learning. Where does this all fit in with the notion of a single, end-of-course exam?

  • Why can’t exams be done on computers, so pupils can draft and redraft their work?
  • Could pupils answer questions orally or submit video evidence for their exam? (I have done for my Masters.)
  • Why can’t pupils make use of the Internet during an examination?
  • Why can’t teacher assessment make up part of the final grade? Teachers have a far better knowledge of their pupils’ abilities than any examiner.

Do we want to educate our pupils for the future? For a digital world of work, where even those in manual trades now find they use technology all the time? For a world where people work together as a part of a team, even one that is dispersed nationally or globally?

I would love to see some schools have the courage to pull out of the exam system, to educate children to be the best they can be and not to just jump through artificial, outdated hoops. I wonder which colleges and universities would have the nerve to accept young people who had been educated but who had not taken exams? Pupils who could be interviewed and assessed by their digital portfolio and recommendations from their teachers?

Until Gove starts to look at the world that our pupils live in and the world they will be entering and assesses whether they are ready for that, then I will still have to award Gove and the coalition an F grade: F for Fail.

MOOChing around in eduspace……

In just over a week, I shall be joining a MOOC. For those who do not already know, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. This will be the first time I have tried participating in such a group and I am both excited and terrified. I am excited by the prospect of learning something new. The course I have chosen is being offered by Coursera  (a group of Universities and colleges offering free, online education) and is called E-learning and Digital Cultures, so it ties in directly with my work, and to some extent my Masters. I am nervous because I already find I have limited time for my work, my family, my leisure. The course tutors say that the course will take 3-5 hours per week, which will be fine. However, there has been a flurry of pre-course activity and rumours of 2,500 course participants. With everyone blogging, tweeting, sharing their insights via Facebook and Google+, I imagine the possibilities for ways to spend time could extend to months. I was recently part of a course where I worked online with about 20 students and I found the volume of messages generated very difficult to follow. I know there is theory that indicates learning outcomes can be improved by peer collaboration, but my question is: How many peers? How much collaboration? And what quality of the interactions?

I also have some wider MOOC questions. I think it is fantastic that the elite preserve of Higher Education is opening its doors to all comers but where does this lead us? Do Universities offer this in the hope of enrolling more students to their courses? In times where Universities are already struggling for finances, how are the tutors that support such courses paid? Will people bother with degrees in the future or just immerse themselves in a series of MOOC courses? A pupil I interviewed the other day told me that he loves to follow courses from Universities on You Tube and iTunesU (he was 15 years old). It also looks like there will be more organisations offering MOOCs in the future: An organisation called FutureLearn has already been set up in the UK, due to deliver courses in the near future.

As the course develops I will be blogging and sharing my experiences of being a MOOC participant. I will also be keeping an eye on the ‘mobile learning’ side of the experience as I am keen to see how much I am able to do on my mobile devices and how much this influences my learning. I am also keen to see whether this an experience that could be used by schools. Imagine a situation where, for example, Biology GCSE is offered by MOOC. Would there be takers? Would it suit school pupils? Some of my evidence from my research is already suggesting that pupils are increasingly relying on finding their own information online after a stimulus in school.

Couting down to launch date: 28th January 2013……..#edcmooc

How pupils use their mobile devices….

…is the title of my Masters dissertation. Over the last few months I have spent time in two schools – one where all pupils have a mobile device for their schoolwork and one where pupils are officially ‘banned’ from having mobile devices. Anecdotal evidence had told me that pupils were using their devices irrespective of the ban. The research took the form of a questionnaire and I focussed on pupils in Years 10 & 11 (aged 14-16 years old). I wanted to look at this age group as they are still classed as ‘children’ and most research done to date has looked at adults and the HE context. The questionnaire was followed up with lesson observations, pupil diaries and interviews with 8 pupils. The findings are fascinating and I shall be publishing in full shortly. You can see some of the initial findings at the BETT show on Saturday 2nd February 2013 when I will be speaking in the NAACE live theatre.


‘At some point, the electronic portfolio, or e-Portfolio, will become a fully implemented, successful tool’ is the bold claim of Ali Jafari (2004). However, in the eight years since the article was written, it is not yet clear when this time will come. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is not a clear definition of what is meant by the term e-portfolio. ‘The term e-portfolio is not fixed’ ( Roberts & al., 2005)…and this is probably because different groups of people in education ‘each perceive a different set of functional requirements for the e-Portfolio’.  (Jafari ,2004) Let us look at who those users may be and what they require from an e-portfolio.

At its most basic level, the definition given by Wikipedia is perfectly adaquate: ‘An electronic portfolio, also known as an e-portfolio or digital portfolio, is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web.’ This is backed up by Richardson & Ward (2005): ‘The term portfolio…generally describes a collection of reflective writing and associated evidence, which documents learning and which a learner may draw upon to present his/her learning achievements.’ Many VLEs at Secondary level include an e-portfolio area for pupils to save and access their work. However, these definitions were written six years ago and time has brought changes to the e-portfolio.

E-portfolios are now frequently managed by an e-portfolio system, which brings additional functionality. ‘An e-portfolio system is a collection of tools that allows various operations to be performed with e-portfolio items, for example: uploading products to a file store, entering reflective statements, and making presentations’.  (Roberts & al., 2005, p. 6) Increasingly, teachers are keen for pupils not only to collect evidence of their achievements but to reflect on their work and maintain their portfolios over a period of time. ‘Building a lifelong e-Portfolio system promotes additional incentives for users to create and maintain their e-Portfolios, [allowing a student to] continue using his e-Portfolio, still accessing all of the documents and artifacts [sic] created during his college life.’ (Jafari, 2004)

Increasingly, there is another consumer group interested in e-portfolios – employers. ‘The web serves as an ideal home for electronic portfolios to be shared with all different kinds of audiences.’ (Wikipedia, 2012) With more pupil work now being completed electronically, the e-portfolio can become a show-case for the pupil’s achievements. The JISC InfoNet website states that currently ‘employer engagement with e-portfolios and perceived benefits are areas not fully known and require further research and investigation.’ Some research was conducted by Ward & Moser (2008), which found that seventy-five percent of HR managers in companies were not familiar with e-portfolios.  However, fifty-six per cent of all respondents said that they planned to use them in the future.

The future of e-portfolios is still uncertain, still evolving. There are issues over institutional provision, interoperability, desirable content, target audience and longevity. Let us leave the final, inconclusive words with Stefani, Pegler, & Mason (2007) ‘e-Portfolios might evolve into something unrecognisable today or they might become yesterday’s unsuccessful idea’.


Jafari, A. (2004 (Jul / Aug) ). The “Sticky” ePortfolio System. Educause Review, 38-49.

JISC InfoNet. (3, January 2012). E-Portfolios. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from JISC InfoNet:

Richardson, H., & Ward, R. (2005). Developing and Implementing a Methodology for Reviewing E-portfolio Products. Wigan: The Centre for Recording Achievement.

Roberts, G., & al., e. (2005). Reflective learning, future thinking: digital repositories, e-portfolios, informal learning and ubiquitous computing. ALT/SURF/ILTA Spring Conference Research Seminar. Dublin: ALT/SURF/ILTA.

Stefani, L., Pegler, C., & Mason, R. (2007). The educational potential of e-Portfolios: supporting personal development and reflective learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Ward, C., & Moser, C. (2008). E-Portfolios as a Hiring Tool: Do Employers Really Care? Educause Quarterly (Oct-Dec), 13-14.

Wikipedia. (2012, January 4). Electronic Portfolio. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from Wikipedia:

The Future of VLEs

The second mini-assignment was on The Future of VLEs. This was very timely as my colleague, Albin Wallace, had just completed and published some work looking at the way the VLE was being adopted across our schools. The following article highlights the findings and the areas we are looking to develop.

The impact of the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) within the United Church Schools Trust / United Learning Trust, highlighting key areas for development. The future of the VLE is a topic high on the priority list for my organisation, ( UCST / ULT). Whilst there is debate over the requirement for a school to have a VLE (Edugeek Discussion Forum, 2010) and over the format that a VLE may take (OFSTED, 2009, p. 8), this assignment is written from the standpoint that our schools are provided with a ‘managed learning platform’. “We needed a learning platform that could help our teachers do more in the time they have. It had to give teachers and students access to the curriculum outside school hours and also give our students a virtual space where they could personalise and extend their learning,” explains Dr. Albin Wallace, Group Director of ICT and e-Learning at UCST. (Its Learning, 2011) A VLE may carry out varying functions, depending on the software selected and the way that it is managed. It is beyond the scope of this assignment to look at the full range of affordances. Our VLE provides course areas, a calendar, a pupil portfolio area, a project area for collaborative working and access to SCORM content. As an organisation, we have recently carried out research, examining the way the VLE is currently being used which gives us some direction for the future. This was disseminated via a webinar, delivered on 1st November 2011 (Wallace, 2011). There is a great deal to discuss in the research, so I have drawn out only the areas for future attention. More pupils used the VLE in year nine than in any other year. This is in contrast to the report by OFSTED (2009), which found that ‘In Secondary schools, the effective use of VLEs increased with the age of the students.’ In the future, we need to examine why there is little use in the upper years. Almost half those who answered used the VLE once a week and this tended to be at school. This finding is the same as that stated in OFSTED (2009) which reported that ‘the main use of a VLE by students was on site, albeit out of lessons’. There are issues to address here about accessibility of the VLE from home and also how pupils can use the VLE on mobile devices. Seventy-two per cent of pupils used the VLE for ICT – twice as many as for any other school subject. This usage is consistent with the findings of OFSTED (2009) which stated that ‘the main factor behind a successful VLE was the enthusiasm of individual teachers or trainers and often linked with their good use of technology to improve learning in the classroom’. There is a need to break down the concept that the VLE is ‘IT’ and it would be useful to conduct further analysis to find out how to support other subject areas. Finally, a key area for development is the use of a VLE by a parent or carer. It was found that parents were not routinely involved in the way pupils engaged with the VLE. This is a complex area, as discussed in Selwyn, Banaji, Hadjithoma-Garstka & Clark (2011). It has not been possible to link the impact of the VLE with learning outcomes, although grades have improved in all schools where the VLE has been implemented. This may be an area for further research.


Its Learning. (2011, December 22). United Church Schools Trust / United Learning Trust. Retrieved December 22, 2011, from Its Learning: OFSTED. (2009).

Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings. London: OFSTED.

Selwyn, N., Banaji, S., Hadjithoma-Garstka, C., & Clark, W. (2011). Providing a platform for parents? Exploring the nature of parental engagement with school Learning Platforms. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 314-323.

Various. (2010, June 10). Now BECTA has gone, do we NEED to have a VLE? Retrieved Dec 28, 2011, from Edugeek:

Wallace, A. (2011, November 1). How to succeed with learning platforms – new research into the student’s perspective. Retrieved December 25, 2011, from its learning:

Historical and Strategic Context

The first task was to look at the ‘Historical and Strategic Context’ in which our work is carried out. The most interesting thing for me here was to discover the massive change that has taken place as government has changed. Whilst I was aware that the Coalition goverment was making drastic changes, I was still rather surprised by the total lack of guidance and the fact that we are now seeking this guidance from other sources. I’m still making up my mind whether the lack of central direction is a good or bad thing……what do you think?

The Mini-Project:

I work for an organisation called the United Church Schools Trust, a charity which manages eleven independent schools in England. A subsidiary of this charity is the United Learning Trust, the largest sponsor of City Academies in the UK. These are defined as being “state-maintained but independently-run schools… set up with the help of outside sponsors” (Shimmon, 2010). I will focus on the provision that we make at Secondary level for this task.

The Labour government (1997-2010) was hugely committed to the provision of ICT in schools. It supported schools in three key areas: the numbers of computers in school, Internet connectivity and support issues. This support was coupled with large amounts of funding and policy documents – from central government, from BECTA (British Educational Technology Agency) and at Local Authority level. The Government’s Harnessing Technology report stated that “We want every child to achieve their full potential by ensuring that every school in England makes full use of ICT for learning and teaching,” (Department for Education and Skills, 2005, p. 41) This led to some significant advances in the years that Labour was in power, but some would argue, that it also led to wasted funding. (See Alan Day’s statement in Hitchcock, 2011).

In May 2010, England gained a new coalition government. This brought with it two key changes in direction. The Importance of Teaching, the governement’s White Paper for Schools (2010) sets out the “decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority”. There is no mention of any policy related to e-learning on the Department for Education’s website. Indeed, Valerie Thompson, CEO of the e-Learning Foundation, speaking to the Guardian said “I think if you ask education ministers for their views on ICT policy in schools, for the most part they will tell you they don’t have one.”  (Hitchcock, 2011)

The second change is related to the Spending Review brought on by the financial crisis. This led to the liquidation of BECTA (April 2011), the removal of the funding for the Harnessing Technology strategy and the cancellation of many projects under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) banner. These are all having a significant impact on many schools.

Within the United Church Schools Trust, the commitment to ICT and E-learning remains strong. Budgets are lower, thereby imposing some constraints on spending. However, “Central Office works continually to ensure that the latest, best quality resources are in place, regularly updated and new resources and applications reviewed so that we can deliver….improved teaching and learning.”  (United Learning Trust, 2011) Within this context, the organisation works independently and with key organisations (such as NAACE) and individuals, to develop strategic policy. Important areas for development at present include: the ICT mark (an accreditation for schools who have reached nationally agreed level), e-safety, training on interactive whiteboards, with a particular emphasis on interactivity, hand-held response devices, VLE development and the Digital skills curriculum for staff and pupils (Photoshop, digital audio and digital video).

In summary, the current context for our schools is that we work to develop e-learning, which we believe to be of significant benefit to learning, freed from government constraints, but without the substantial financial support and guidance provided by the previous Labour government.


Department for Education & Skills (2005). Harnessing Technology. Nottingham:
DfES Publications.

Department for Education (2010). The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Hitchcock, G. (2011, April 5). What Future for ICT in Education? Retrieved November 8, 2011, from The Guardian:

Shimmon, K. (2010, May 26). What is an Academy? . Retrieved November 15, 2011, from The Guardian:

Trust, U. L. (2011). Principles for Principals. Oundle: United Learning Trust .

Long time, no blog

OK, just checking in again. I think one of the challenges of blogging is making it a regular thing. Sometimes, I find I have nothing interesting to say. Other times, I have something interesting to say, but no time to say it! Anyway, one thing I did say I would do is to share the work that I did on the first Module of the Masters, so the next few posts will all be the mini-assignments which were submitted for ‘Understanding E-learning’, which, thankfully, I passed.

Task 7: Comment on other people’s design project ideas

Surprised myself here – I had been and commented on some other design project ideas without knowing that this was the next task to complete: – I liked the way that Gemma put forward several ideas and then asked the readers to choose one. It made me feel much more involved as a reader to know that my opinion would be considered (whether she took any notice of it or not!).

We all like an audience for our work.

I guess that in writing a blog, we want an audience. But how do we know that anyone is following us or reading what we write?

I know a couple of people have ‘subscribed’ to follow my blog? Help, I thought, that means I will have to try to make it worth people reading now!

I also looked at the stats in the admin area which showed me who was reading and following. When I put up the Word doc with the details about how to reference work, that provoked a mini peak in my profile. So, adding something that people want clearly works. I will have to work out a way of creating a voucher that gives people free chocolate – that should attract an audience!

In the meantime, I will try to be an ‘audience’ to my e-learning colleagues and go and read and comment on a few more design projects.