Reaching Further

A leader in mobile breakthroughs brings wireless tech to underserved communities globally.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Qualcomm Wireless Reach Angela BakerToday, there are more than 7 billion mobile connections globally and this figure is expected to grow to approximately 8.7 billion by end of 2018. “Wireless technologies hold some of the best solutions for connectivity for remote and rural geographies because they are fast, affordable and prevalent,” says Angela Baker, Senior Manager for Qualcomm Wireless Reach, a strategic initiative that brings wireless technology to underserved communities globally. Through the initiative, the company invests in projects that foster entrepreneurship, aid in public safety, enhance the delivery of health care, enrich teaching and learning and improve environmental sustainability. Formalized in 2006, Wireless Reach has grown to include over 100 projects in 40 countries, with more than 450 partner organizations. “Given Qualcomm’s expertise in the mobile ecosystem, Wireless Reach makes an excellent convener of non-profits, private

We are at a pivotal moment in the mobile education space.

organizations and government stakeholders to create effective mobile-focused projects that benefit underserved communities,” says Angela, who previously served as an advisor in the Office of Innovation at the US Department of State under Hillary Clinton, and holds a Master’s Degree in International Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. In this interview, Angela further discusses how far Qualcomm is moving in a mobile direction, particularly in education — and why.

Victor: Tell us about some of Wireless Reach’s mobile education projects.

CREDIT Wireless Reach QualcommAngela: We have a project in India called Play and Learn that we created in collaboration with Sesame Workshop India to develop Android-based games in Hindi that cover topics related to identifying shapes, spotting the difference, recognizing common activities and sentence completion. Playing these games has led to greater gains in language comprehension, word knowledge and imagination among students ages 5-8 in underserved communities. This a powerful example of how today’s mobile platforms can be used to improve access to quality educational content and transform learning, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic status.

In Singapore, our WE Learn project is providing 3G-enabled smartphones, mobile broadband connectivity and educational applications to empower 3rd and 4th grade students from Nan Chiau Primary School to acquire and practice key 21st century skills, including self-directed and collaborative learning. The students’ teachers are also being provided smartphones as well as professional development experiences and customized curriculum that leverages the benefits of the smartphones. Having 24/7 access to educational content, web-based resources and a broad range of learning tools has resulted in students becoming more independent, inquisitive and self-directed and led to significant improvements in test scores on self-directed and collaborative learning skills.

CREDIT Wireless Reach indiaThe Making Learning Mobile project is a collaboration with Kajeet that examines the effects of student access to always on, always-connected mobile devices and the resulting learning experiences both in and outside of school. Additionally, the project provides new research on how teachers integrate mobile learning within classroom instruction, specifically within underserved schools. The three-year project is currently being implemented with fifth grade students at Falconer Elementary School within Chicago Public Schools.

To support the transformation of the learning experience for these 5th graders, their teachers were provided with additional professional development and coaching on effective ways to leverage the tablets in class and utilize their students’ new out of school Internet access to extend the learning process.

Victor: You released the “8 Essentials for Mobile Learning” report, what are some of the best strategies educators can use to introduce and utilize mobile technology in the classroom?

Angela: In our experience over the last eight years working in the mobile education space, we have seen that many educators and school leaders are excited about the opportunity to use smartphones and tablets as learning tools within schools, and want to understand the power of these devices to transform teaching and learning. However, too often mobile devices are seen as simply inexpensive laptops or workstations, rather than as ways to empower learning throughout life outside the classroom and the home.

Given this, educators and administrators should plan for the usage of mobile devices into the curriculum in ways that realize their full capabilities, in and out of classrooms. They should ask themselves, “What are the learning goals to be accomplished and who else in the student’s life – teachers, coaches and mentors – can help to enhance the learning that happens outside of the school place and time?” Needs assessments and pilot studies can help to determine what instructional and curricular materials are available—or need to be developed—and how these materials will take advantage of the power of mobile devices. Evaluation is a key strategy in improving initial efforts and establishing a roadmap for sustaining the initiative.

What are the learning goals to be accomplished and who else in the student’s life – teachers, coaches and mentors – can help to enhance the learning that happens outside of the school place and time?

Victor: How can educators successfully measure mobile learning projects in the classroom?

Angela: One of the most important components of measuring a mobile learning project is proper planning and goal setting. The evaluation process should be an inherent part of the plan from the first discussions about overall project goals to implementation strategies. In addition, the types of evaluation data or metrics that are used to evaluate project impact should be contextualized to the local environment of the school or community, and not be seen as a one-size-fits-all approach. It is also imperative that educators think beyond simplistic metrics for evaluating impact and success with mLearning projects. Since a successful mobile learning project should really transform the classroom experience for the teacher as well as the student, evaluating the impact on teacher effectiveness and student engagement is as important as the more traditional measurement conveyances of test scores or grades that do not always fully capture the impact of any digital initiative. As we know from research, enhancing teacher effectiveness and student engagement in the learning process can both be drivers to greater student achievement. A successful evaluation design in mobile learning examines a myriad of factors that are influencing the transformation of the student experience with a keen eye on linking impact directly to the project goals.

Victor: In what ways do you see mobile technologies improving education in the future?

CREDIT Wireless Reach making learning mobileAngela: We think the biggest potential of mobile technologies is enabling new learners to address needs that are not currently being met. This can be addressed in several ways, through the use of educational software or mobile applications, or, in a more fundamental way, by establishing the proper infrastructure within a community in order to provide access to mobile connectivity. For the millions of children in emerging regions who lack access to formal education, the proliferation of mobile devices opens the door to world-class learning resources. For example, through a smartphone and an Internet connection, children in Sub-Saharan Africa can access the same educational materials as students in New York City.

Victor: How can technology skills benefit students beyond the classroom?

Angela: Having access to online educational resources at all times nurtures and maximizes each student’s opportunity for comprehension. It also makes schoolwork more engaging by encouraging personalized, self-initiated learning. Access to mobile devices can foster intellectual curiosity outside the classroom, encouraging hobbies such as computer programming for fun (computational thinking skills), making clothing that are a mixture of textiles and electronics (engineering skills), or adeptly selecting players in fantasy sports leagues (statistical reasoning skills).

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors are widely regarded as critical to national economies. For example, the National Science Foundation estimates that about 5 million Americans work directly in science, engineering and technology — just over 4 percent of the U.S. workforce. We believe that mobile technology skills and the ability to learn independently can strengthen the pipeline into these fields in the U.S. and abroad.

Victor: Broadly speaking, what are your thoughts on technology enhancing education in general these days? 

Angela: We are at a pivotal moment in the mobile education space. The Internet and advanced wireless technologies have democratized learning, bringing high-quality education to all communities, regardless of income status or location. If a student has access to the Internet, they can learn and explore at their own pace. Mobile education empowers independent student learning, and Qualcomm sees the value in having wireless technology be accessible to as many students as possible.

The entire education community must work together to create a scalable infrastructure to support this new kind of learning.

Students need access to safe, affordable and equitable 24/7 learning and Qualcomm companies are in a unique position to address current challenges that both educators and students are facing. Since 2007, Wireless Reach has sponsored 40 education-based pilot projects and hosted conferences on mobile learning.

Technology has the power to transform teaching and learning around the world, but simply providing devices won’t ensure that learning occurs—or that the devices are utilized to the best of their ability. As a next step, the entire education community must work together to create a scalable infrastructure to support this new kind of learning, which ranges from basic needs such as access to wireless to cultural needs such as educating the community how mobile learning can empower students.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Trends | Apps and Freshmen Retention

CREDIT OohLaLaFor colleges, freshmen retention continues to be a concern — most students who drop out of college, do so in their first year. That fact has colleges seeking opportunities to engage, prepare and welcome students to campus and ease the transition to college life. Incoming students have millions of questions from what classes and activities to take to what sheets will fit on their dorm bed. Administrators can’t possibly field all these inquiries and many first year students, even before they step foot on campus, begin to feel isolated and overwhelmed. To make students feel more engaged, Texas A&M, is using a campus-specific smart phone app to connect incoming students to answer and one another. According to some new research, the results are encouraging. In a survey of those incoming A&M students who used it, a very robust 83% said they felt that it helped them get off to a good start at their university. The same percentage agreed that it helped them feel more confident as a first year student at their university. And 79% of students agreed it helped them to be better prepared as a first year student. It may be some time before it can be shown that early social media engagement brings down the freshman dropout rate, but helping freshmen feel more confident and prepared are certainly good trends.

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Cool Tool | Own it!

ownit teen courseOwn it! is a teen empowerment training course designed to teach high school and post-secondary students the mental, attitudinal and behavioral skills to be successful in school and in life. Designed in a rich, online gaming format, students earn 10 badges while learning life skills presented through videos and choose-your-own-outcome activities. The course content is based on the works of Dennis Deaton, author of Ownership Spirit: The One Grand Key That Changes Everything Else. Throughout the course, students answer questions to establish learning strengths, preferences and skill levels related to life and career readiness standards. The data collected is used to build a profile that summarizes the student results. Students access their progress daily, and once completed with all 10 ten training units, receive access to their profile, a certificate of completion and a letter of recommendation. Own it! was designed to increase student motivation and retention that ultimately improves student outcomes. Educational partners receive access to student portfolios using linked web reports. The final portfolio provides valuable feedback for the student, and serves as a report allowing teachers, counselors and parents the opportunity to support the learning strengths, weaknesses and preferences. See it for yourself.

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Cool Tool | Taken Charge

CREDIT Taken Charge gameAn online educational game that brings comprehensive technology education into a game-based learning environment created by Galvanize Labs, Taken Charge submerges players in a captivating story while giving them the building blocks for a quality technology education. Players progress through 49 levels and have the opportunity to earn 36 unique digital badges for each new technology skill set on topics ranging from hardware to file types, networking to cyberbullying, and much more. While players learn the fundamentals of technology education, they also have the chance to demonstrate and validate their newly acquired skills in-game via Taken Charge’s mini-game assessments. Apparently the only video game in the world to receive educational and teaching validation in the form of the ISTE Seal of the Alignment, Taken Charge also offers an LMS and Administrator Portal or organizations to track their students’ progress in-game, and to create and distribute customized reports. Have a look.

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Achieving Efficacy

Integrating the right technology tools in schools to meet learning challenges.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Raj Valli

CREDIT TabtorMost classrooms already have technology assets, according to the US Department of Education, which reports that virtually all schoolrooms have at least one computer and that 90% of classrooms have Internet connectivity. The challenge for teachers is to integrate the right digital learning tools into their classrooms to drive measurable results. Achieving efficacy is the key, and to translate digital learning tools into improved classroom performance, educators have to make sure students use them.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results?

Choosing the right programs can be difficult since technology assets differ from school to school, and learning programs are typically not compatible across every platform. Some schools rely on a lab environment with desktop devices. While there are advantages to digital learning programs geared toward delivery in a lab environment, it makes it more challenging for students to adopt because desktops and Chromebooks are typically less interactive than tablets.

Students of all ages usually find learning on a tablet more personal. Students respond well to animation-driven and interactive apps, which make lessons more interactive and entertaining than linear modules delivered on a desktop. And tablets are more portable, which gives students more opportunities for learning. But regardless of the device, it’s important for educators to ensure that the experience is as hands-on and personalized as possible to promote efficacy.

Aside from the device itself, gamification strategies are another way educators can pique student interest and make learning fun. Many educators have introduced elements of games into their lesson plans to effect a shift in how students learn, with active engagement making learning less of an abstract exercise and more of an enjoyable activity. The result is higher motivation levels, which can translate into better test scores and improved classroom performance.

Gamification works because the years students spend playing video games conditions them to respond to rewards in the form of points – plus the motivation that comes with competitive leader boards. Digital learning solutions built on a gamification model can provide practice opportunities that students actually look forward to, but the challenge for educators is to choose a program that provides the right type of practice.

Educators should look for a program that actually teaches new concepts and helps students think through problems. For example, there are programs on the market that help students learn basic math facts, which can be somewhat valuable. But a program that teaches mathematical concepts and guides students as they think through the steps involved in solving a problem are even more valuable – and engaging for students.

Educators should also look for a program that effectively motivates students. In the classroom, teachers routinely use assignments to help students practice new learning concepts, but when teachers augment pencil-and-paper lessons with gamification delivered via digital programs, they can reinforce what students learn in the classroom. To find the program with the right motivational strategy, teachers should take a look at how students get credited for achievements on their favorite video games, (i.e. badges, gifts and other rewards). A digital program that harnesses these motivating factors can be highly effective.

The good news for educators is that there are many digital programs on the market, so there are a variety of options. But one snag educators often run into is an overreliance on academic research to determine efficacy of any digital programs. Technology evolves so rapidly that it outpaces formal academic research, so educators who want to apply cutting-edge tools to give their students an advantage have to look to other sources to verify a program’s promise.

To address this problem, it’s a good idea for educators to look at what works in the consumer sector. The adoption rate for mobile devices on the consumer side has been nothing short of phenomenal, which is a good indicator that consumers – and students – find the devices useful and entertaining. But for educators, the ultimate test of value is in a given program’s ability to bolster student performance and test scores, and the best way to find out for sure is to try it out in the classroom. Educators may want to consider bypassing sales teams and interacting directly with vendor CEOs and managers to ask about a pilot program.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results? Educators should look for solutions that students will use, like interactive programs that go beyond the basics to teach concepts. They should seek a solution that motivates students, and they should look for delivery devices that have popular appeal. With the right program, educators can not only overcome challenges to learning – they can create a new generation of lifelong learners.

Raj Valli is the founder and CEO of Tabtor, a tablet-based math tutoring program that combines technology with a live tutor to provide teachers and students with a highly personalized learning experience. For more information, visit http://www.tabtor.com.

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