With a breadth of knowledge about the mobile learning industry, entrepreneur and ICT teacher Mark Martin spoke to KO-SU about the importance of children learning through technology. He discusses how their inventive minds are constantly finding new ways to interact and share content via mobile learning. Having trained to become a Google Certified Teacher and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Mark is a technology evangelist working in education to ensure that tech and digital skills are passed into the hands of learners.
How do you think technology use amongst peers in education has changed relationships?
The sharing of videos, tech files and images online through messaging has opened up an entirely new topic of conversation within the edTech world. If edTech companies actually saw how young people are using messaging to connect with one another, I think it could be a revelation in terms of product development. At the moment, I think large companies are missing out on building relationships with schools. They try to provide a product that is already at maximum capacity and fulfills all the required criteria, whereas the best edTech companies I have worked with have been the ones who develop a product like a seed within schools. They watch it grow, using the learners as innovators and ultimately create a collaborative product using the creativity of learners, and the resources from the company. The other issue that presents itself when used in education is that technology is quite often used at a face value and not explored deeper in terms of mechanics. For the young people who are tomorrow’s industry leaders and inventors, I think it is crucial for them to understand how technology is built and how it works to provide the services it does.
What is a key concept that you think needs to be remembered when creating educational tools?
Sustainability is something I would have at the top of my priority list when developing educational tools. It is great that the developers have allowed tech to be used on a number of different devices, even if the resolution of applications is not appropriate for certain devices (one of the key areas that needs examining!). In terms of educational tools impacting society, we always need to ask whether the product will lead to sustainability, especially for edTech startups to allow a stable business to form. The way we can get to this point through mobile learning is to realise when a unique concept is born and retain it to be able to build on it and transform it into a working, sustainable product.
How do you feel about technology and human nature working collaboratively?
When human nature is partnered with technology, because of our limitations in terms of human error, I don’t think there will ever be a silver bullet, no straightforward solution that ensures maximum effectiveness. Technology will work in places for a certain amount of time but it will always continue to evolve, so once technology companies completely grasp that concept, the product that we begin with today will be something else tomorrow. Just like in education, we are on the right track but as it continues, the policies change and we learn more about what works and what doesn’t, so the legislation and teaching methods that were in place ten years ago have dramatically altered compared to where we are today.
How do you think technology can assist those not within education, employment or training?
It is all about the current mobile services provided and how they are used to access information from outside an educational setting. Having been a youth worker for Southwark Council, I have seen the impact learning can have on a young person: it is not necessarily about following a structured curriculum, but by engaging them with technology and learning in an unconventional way, they develop a range of skills that would have been inaccessible before. The introduction of such learning resources as the Open University allows flexibility of learning, but I think we are only scratching the surface, and the speed that technology has excelled over the last few years has shown that.
Do you think pedagogy has changed dramatically since the introduction of mobile learning?
Yes – mobile learning has allowed teaching methods and the way teachers interact with students to change. I have never settled for one style of teaching; teaching is at a place now where it relies on innovation, creativity and it is time to move on from the structured, conveyor-belt style of lecturing. Technology has become a great leveller of social systems that can be reflected within schools. If someone can learn through a device without needing to physically attend a conventional institution, those devices can serve a great purpose. Alongside this, we need to explore how such devices can sit within the classroom and be a beneficial resource. When I recently did a talk with Bloomberg, I highlighted the importance of connections being built between people, both large conglomerates and individuals. Using social networking is in our nature as humans; we always want to be in touch and moving forward with connections but within education, social networking has not yet been explored. The important thing for teachers is to ensure the same mindset occurs when mobile learning is used within the classroom. If mobile learning is shown as a tool for reducing workloads rather than as a tool to unlock unlimited amounts of potential within students, I think the standard of teaching will dip and the experience will become almost independent study instead of collaborative learning.
With regards to recent political campaigns, what do you think of having a capped class size of 30 pupils?
I don’t think having 30 pupils per class will dramatically increase or decrease the impact of teaching. Obviously with smaller class sizes there will be more time designated to each pupil but with teaching methods evolving constantly to suit children’s learning styles and technological breakthroughs, a lot of learning can be completed peer-to-peer. One of the main issues stemming from teaching in schools are the staff measurement procedures. If the accountability structure is changed, then there is more room for creative learning and exciting techniques. With the current performance management and pay increments as a motivation for teachers (whereby teachers are set targets that are underpinned by salary), teachers can be fearful to think outside the box when in the classroom, as their livelihood depends on reaching certain targets. I’ve been lucky to be able to help a lot of teachers by informing them about game-changing teaching techniques and not just being dormant, waiting for retirement. Mobile learning and technology allows huge development, as I showcased when speaking on the global platform RSCON 5 (Reform Symposium Conference), about the importance of bringing education outside the classroom, inclusive of geographically remote locations.
To read about how KO-SU is working to bring education to geographically remote locations, click here to learn about the Educating Reena project.
To hear more about Mark’s passion for people, education and technology, follow him on Twitter (@Urban_Teacher) or read his blog http://urban-teacher.weebly.com/