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Mobiles in the Mountains

June 19, 2010

I noted that a number of the more innovative projects where mobile phones are used (mobile, by the way, is the term used almost everywhere but North America) is in Australia, from the list we were given for this analysis. I immediately keyed in on Jarrod Robinson’s wonderful class records of their trip to Victoria’s Grampian Mountains National Park. Australia is a geographic wonder, and a short (sometimes very long!) drive in any direction often leads one to very unique environments in which to explore and learn.

http://vceoes.wordpress.com/

Wow! The Grampians (named after a range of mountains in the highlands of Scotland) are an incredibly unique geological feature of the Victorian landscape, and one of the many reasons I really liked this project was my personal familiarity with the area. We lived in Victoria in 2007 and as as family, we took four trips to the Grampians combined, due to its unique environment. Ironically, it was 6 months into our year in Australia before I encountered a wild kangaroo. That happened on my first visit to The Grampians, where hundreds wandered freely in the bush and in the villages, like the Joey pictured above. Students grasp the unique connections between the geography and biology of a place when they are evident firsthand.

Every school child in Australia has an equal opportunity to go to “school camp” and my youngest son spent his week in the Grampians on a similar trip to the one featured in Robinson’s Victorian Certificate of Education Year 11 Outdoor and Environmental Studies Trip. This course is one of the courses that can be taken for high school completion for year 11 in Victoria.

Robinson’s classes recorded audio blogs during the experience, captured photographs, and then created Slideshare Presentations to synthesize their learning after the trip, which are embedded in the class Blog page.

Coincidentally, our school trip leaves Monday morning for a cultural and historical learning experience in Quebec City, a UNESCO world heritage site and the only walled city in North America. Students “peuvent pratiquer le français” and be immersed in “the joie de vivre” of Quebec. We’ll be broadcasting live fom my iPhone back to the school on Qik.com

I contacted Robinson in a variety of ways, knowing that he is in the middle of report writing mode at the school year’s halfway mark in Victoria, an extremely challenging and difficult element of the Victorian school teacher’s job. He acknowledged my inquiry on Facebook and then later, answered the edited questions I posed:

  1. How did you mange to convince the Principal/Headmaster to allow the use of phones by students?
  2. Were there any other policy obstacles you had to overcome before doing this?
  3. What was the parental reaction to  this project?
  4. Were there any other challenges (technical or otherwise) that you had to deal with?
He replied this way:
  1. In order to convince the principal I showed her the actual software and idea in action. She was then in a position to see the potential and realise how valuable it would be for the learning experience. She gave me permission to trial it as long as it was under the direct supervision of myself.
  2. Our school policy at the time was against use of mobile phones within class. This trial was an exception to see just how they could be used for good.
  3. The parental reaction was quite positive, parents were able to log onto the website and listen to their kids blogs as they were happening. The students reactions were only temporary, the students thought it was cool but in the end their mobile phones are everyday items to them. I didn’t expect them to make a fuss over what they see is normal technology. As teachers we shouldn’t expect them to think these sorts of things are amazing….because in our students world’s…they are just normal…
  4. The only potential challenge I faced was ensuring that all students had access to a mobile phone. So before deciding on the project I surveyed students to find out the data and then based my decision on this. It turned out that all students did have access, which meant I could safely go ahead with the project.
A point that emerges from Robinson’s use of mobile phones in class is that, when phones are banned, they become a clandestine tool for mischief by students intent on circumventing the rules. Outside of the supervision of teachers, they will be used for purposes that easily slip towards the lowest common behaviour. When they are embraced as a learning tool, as a means to document and describe learning, then most students understand the purpose and the expectations and rise to the challenge. There is a lesson here for reluctant adopters of mobile phone technology in their programs.

Jarrod Robinson also has an excellent, award winning Blog in which he records other innovative methods for using technology in Physical Education, Outdoor Education, and Environmental Studies, all areas in which I have a great interest. He also presents at various Australia conferences and his innovative integration of technology into his classes is noteworthy. I’ve added him to my Google Reader list. He can be contacted in any of the following ways:

Email – robinson.jarrod.j@edumail.vic.gov.au

Twitter – mrrobbo

Skype – robbo6486

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