The New Landscape Of Mobile Learning Education Essay

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At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century we are witnessing a rapid transition to ubiquitous mobile computing in all domains of education. Teacher preparation programs are no exception to this new trend that has been often used for learning and teaching in higher education (references to be inserted). However, presently, there are no documented attempts to apply mobile technology devices and apps to the development of teacher dispositions and personal characteristics. Teaching involves more than effective organization, instructional knowledge, and teaching skills. It also encompasses professional dispositions, also referred to as a set of values, beliefs, and perceptions that guide teachers'' professional conduct. On the other hand, effective teachers possess a distinct set of personal characteristics that enables them to not just maintain their jobs (survive) "but thrive as confident and healthy professionals" (Beltman, Mansfield, & Price, 2011, p 196). The process through which a person is developing the ability to overcome adverse situations and remain successfully adapted has been linked to the concept of "resiliency". Teacher resiliency has been linked to several processes and characteristics among which problem solving and perceived self-efficacy are crucial (References here). Since resiliency can be learned, teacher education programs should begin shaping teacher candidates early through intentional and explicit methods and strategies. In the present technology climate, mobile technology offers a variety of modalities that can facilitate critical thinking and problem solving while in the field.

This chapter is exploring strategies for fostering resiliency in preservice teachers with the support of mobile technology devices and innovative applications.

Teacher Resiliency

Resiliency has become an important concept that has recently made a comeback in studies about beginning teachers' effectiveness and retention. While many studies have studied the multiple challenges that teachers face in both rural (Zost, 2010) and urban areas (Tait, 2008; Margolis, 2008; Huisman, Singer, & Catapano, 2010; Castro, Kelly, & Shih, 2010), researchers recently have shifted their interest towards the concept of "teacher resiliency" by investigating the specific factors that enable certain teachers to remain and be successful in their profession (Gu & Day, 2007, Beltman, et al., 2011).

Many authors argue that resiliency is a mixture of personal and environmental characteristics but most agree that it can be shaped at least in part. Bernshausen and Cunningham (Zost, 2010) identified several characteristics of resilient teachers which included: skillful in their teaching area, a feeling of acceptance by the school and the community, the ability to adjust and prevail over challenges, a higher level of determination and a strong desire not to fail, and a positive outlook about themselves, their school, and life in general.

Fortunately, resilience should be considered not so much an innate quality of the individual to "bounce back", but rather the end result of a complex and dynamic process in which a series of factors interact (Day & Gu, 2007; Howard & Johnson, 2004; Castro et al., 2009). Thus, by responding to difficult situations with a resilient "nature", an individual learns how to shape their own learning and to improve upon problem-solving skills and ultimately as a result of persistence and practice become even more resilient. The positive conclusion of studies of the intricate interplay between risk and protective factors is that resiliency can be learned and will produce teachers who "stay in the profession [and] do not just survive, but thrive as confident and healthy professionals." (Beltman et al., 2011, p. 196)

In a comprehensive and well-structured review of the literature on teacher resilience since 2000, Beltman et al. (2011) classified and found evidence of the two types of factors whose interplay lead eventually to resilience: risk/challenging factors and protective factors which can be in turn either individual or contextual.

Individual risk factors can be low self-confidence, difficulty asking for help, conflict between personal beliefs and school practices while contextual risk factors might be related to family, school/classroom characteristics, or any type professional work context.

Protective factors (supports) have been also extensively studied although, like the risk factors, they were not always directly related to the concept of "resilience". Among the individual protective factors perception of self-efficacy (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007), capacity to problem solve (Yost 2006), personal strengths and characteristics such as strong motivation to teach (Gu & Day, 2007), and critical reflection (Bobek, 2002; Gu & Day, 2007) are cited as being essential. Some authors stress the importance of students' ongoing reflection for analyzing and solving dilemmas and for getting a better perspective of the teaching and learning context and the role of oneself in it (Kuechle, 2010). Therefore, there seems to be a necessity of intentionally creating designated spaces for reflection on and making sense of the teaching context, self-performance, factors that can facilitate or hinder one's teaching, and system of support available in all internship experiences. In "Teaching Ms. Kerbin" Kuechle (2010) cites Pultorak and Stone (1999) who noted that for student teachers "teacher reflectivity has the potential of moving us towards a refined description of how individuals transform from novice thinking to expert understanding"(p.5).

In summary, although the literature point out that resiliency is playing a crucial role in the retention of novice teachers, there is no indication so far that teacher education programs are attempting to include it as one of their outcomes.

Handhelds and problem solving

There is an increasing emphasis on teaching methods that engage the students with the context and make them more active through constructivist models. Many researchers have indicated the countless potential uses of handhelds in field investigations (Soloway, Grant, Tinker, Roschelle, Mills, Resnick, et al., 1999; Franklin, Sexton, Young, & Hongyan, 2007; Bennett & Cunningham, 2009). Involving preservice teachers in the learning of problem solving and resiliency building processes using handhelds devices certainly lends to an active, constructivist learning experience.

Handhelds can play the valuable role of facilitators of the process through which teacher candidates assess the situation, search for possible solutions and decide on an action to implement. Of the two protective factors that support teacher resiliency - problem solving skills and perceived self-efficacy - we can definitely teach problem solving skills while confidence in one's professional efficiency is partially a result of performance (references here).

Handheld devices such as iPads, in addition to their mobility, offer various applications for recording and guiding the problem solving process as well as for solving those problems. For the purpose of developing the problem solving process, offering solutions and for supporting their implementation, the iPads mobility, applications variety and flexibility, and technological novelty constitute the most valuable features.

iPad Mobility. iPads lend themselves to jotting down notes in the classroom, on the playground, during lunch, or during a meeting. They allow the bearer to record events while still in the situation/context so that the facts are less altered by time and emotions. The notes then can be uploaded or shared through email or other social media. Using handheld devices in this manner offers the opportunity to learn how to develop resiliency through reflective problem solving by preservice teachers through reflection "in action" as well as "on action" (Schön, 1983). For this purpose there are apps such as:

"Sticky Notes" -lets you write short messages and organize them on your digital bulletin board by position or color.

"iNote - Sketch and Share" - the notes can be shared via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

"WhiteNote" - digital notebook application for the iPad that supports free-form text positioning and basic free-hand drawing as well as support for images and sound.

"Outliner for iPad" - allows you to organize your thoughts, tasks, and projects. Easily create a todo list for today, or track an entire project anywhere you are. Share your outlines, edit them online, and collaborate with other Outliner users.

"SketchPad HD" is an easy to use app that allows you to takes notes and draw in a variety of colors, collect and browse through notes, as well as share them through email.

"Dropbox" - this popular service, allows you to sync your files automatically to other computers or devices.

iPad's variety and flexibility of apps. The world of apps is growing at a dizzying speed and with over 225,000 apps to choose from, you can be certain to find one for your goals. For the purpose of problem solving and clarify professional dilemmas, there was a paucity of apps but we thought that the teacher interns could find useful the following:

"i Can do for iPad" This app walks you through three easy steps to identify your blocking thoughts and feelings, and to rephrase them to be more actionable.

"iThoughts (mindmapping)" - Mindmapping enables you to visually organize your thoughts, ideas and information. Typical Uses: Task lists, Brainstorming, Project planning, Goal setting, Concept mapping, Course Notes/Revision, Meeting Notes.

iPads technological Novelty can serve multiple purposes for solving problems in the classroom. For example, the student teacher can use it as a reward for children who do well, as a way to collaborative peer groups that work together on the same task, as an Internet search tool for answering questions that need immediate attention. Through its multitude of apps for children of all ages and abilities, the iPad lends itself to a diversity of uses in a variety of situations.

Research methods

In order to explore the value of handheld computing devices for facilitating the building of resiliency through a problem solving process during the student internship, the authors implemented an exploratory study with a group of 6 preservice teachers at a public university in the southeast United States. The focus was on investigating the interaction among perceived self-efficacy, problem solving sills, and self-reflection and what it can reveal about the resiliency building process. We decided to concentrate on the problem solving process of the professional dilemmas encountered by the student teachers, while their measured self-efficacy and periodic reflections were considered the result of this process. A resilient teacher is one that knows how to frame a problem and how to navigate reflexively through the effectiveness of possible solutions and resources. These skills can be learned and fostered in in the student teachers through this project.

Data Sources and Analysis

The preservice teacher internship is an extremely stressful time in the life of teacher candidates. In addition to their teaching for the first time as lead teachers, they are asked to submit a large amount of papers - reflections, literature reviews, artifacts, and the Teacher Candidate Work Sample (TCWS) which can be over a hundred pages. Because of their mobility, handheld devices can facilitate note-taking in various contexts while ideas are still fresh. A total of 6 undergraduate students in their semester of student teaching were recruited. The preservice teachers were pursuing a teaching license in their internship semester (student teaching) of their plan of study, and enrolled in the following teacher education programs: 3 in Special Education, 1 in Early Childhood Education, and 2 in Science Education. They were enrolled to fulfill their internship in the spring semester 2012 and never taught as lead teacher before this internship. The participants are all females, of ages between 26 and 42 years of age and included the following races: White (Caucasian)-3, African American-2, and Native American-1.

The study was conceived as a mixed methods research in which quantitative as well as qualitative data collection methods have been used. Due to the fact that we only had 6 participants and that this is an initial exploratory study intended to clarify and guide future research strategies on larger samples, , the authors relied heavily on the qualitative data collected. The survey results have been thoroughly analyzed in view of the extensive literature review conducted for this study, and we anticipate the development of new measures for capturing all the resiliency domains highlighted in the literature.

The choice of using handheld devices (iPads) to facilitate data collection, and to find and apply solutions to professional dilemmas was made for several reasons; one primary motive was related to the availability of the hardware and software for no cost to the students. The students were issued their own iPad 2 loaded with all the required apps, a screen protector, and a protective leather case. Although most students had technology experience due to the fact that most education courses are taught online, none had used an iPad in the past. The students were allowed to experiment with the device for a couple of weeks before being required to use it for problem solving and reflect on its uses. There were seevral apps downloaded on their iPads including some that allowed taking notes, draw diagrams, and visually organizing thoughts. Of particular interest is the "I can do for iPad" app because it established the framework of working through the problems providing the user with the following steps:

Part One: Describe the issue: (Use these questions and choose from the options offered by the app or come up with your own to answer them)

What I need to do

What are my feelings (there is a drop down menu from which you need to choose at least one)

What are my blocking thoughts?

Part Two: Reconsider (Use these questions and choose from the options offered by the app or come up with your own to answer them)

My thinking was wrong because…

My thought has these distractions…

My more actionable thought is… - USE the App to work out the thoughts.

Seven major categories of challenging situations were offered to the preservice teachers for organizing their problem solving/dilemmas using the reflective problem-solving strategy and the hand-held devices: (1) the first day of student teaching, (2) working as a team with the cooperating teacher, (3) classroom behavior management, (4) sensitivity to the needs of children with difficult home circumstances, (5) observations by the university supervisor, (6) inclusion practices, and (7) breaking through with a difficult student (Kuechle, Holzhauer, Lin, Brulle, & Morrison, 2010). However, the participants were told that they are free to add any challenging situation to these general categories.

The data collection was mainly qualitative and consisted of weekly reflections, problem solving notes on the mobile device apps, and final interviews. The interns were asked to submit weekly reflections in which they were prompted to document various professional dilemmas as well as the purposes for which they used their iPad, be it professional or personal.

The exit interviews were semi-structured individual conversations aimed at gathering information about both the most important experiences and personal characteristics that may evidence resilience, as well as their use of the provided mobile devices for solving various problems.

After completing the pre-test surveys regarding their perceived self-efficacy and resiliency, the participants attended two 2-hours training sessions which included:

Training in problem solving techniques. The participants were informed about the procedures to follow in documenting and reflecting events and practices, as well as in the use of the handheld mobile devices and their applications. Procedures for getting support in coping with challenging events were also be put into place by establishing communication pathways with the university supervisor, mentors, and colleagues.

Establishing the methods, timing, and rules for noting and keeping records of the challenging events and reflections. The participants were informed on methods of recording and uploading their documents to the cloud or sending them through email. They also received a schedule for communicating with the university supervisor periodically.

Basic training in using the mobile devices (iPads) and the applications required for the project. The participants were instructed to use the mobile devices (iPads) for several purposes:

Using their iPads efficiently for various purposes including how to prolong battery life and upload documents to the cloud.

Searching for possible solutions to the encountered problems/dilemmas

Implementing the chosen solution such as individualizing instruction for a child, organize activities for a group of children, behavior management.

Using the various productivity applications to manage scheduling, tasks, and time planning.

Findings

The pre- and post- tests (i.e., surveys) were administered through Qualtrics software and were exported to SPSS for analysis. The data analysis consisted of descriptive statistics and paired T-tests to determine if there are significant differences between pre and post survey results.

The reflections, problem solving process documents submitted by the interns, and the final semi-structured interviews were qualitatively analyzed as a whole through content analysis. In analyzing these documents we looked at two categories of information: information about the types of challenges encountered in the field and the processes used by the student teachers to overcome them, and information about the use of mobile technology as a facilitator during their problem solving and/or resiliency development process. For the first category we used the classification of risk/challenges factors developed by Beltman et al. (2011) to organize and present our data (see Table 1).

The Resiliency Scale administered before and after the teaching period showed some significant differences between the two times - the paired T test showed a significance of .045 which in a larger sample could be interpreted as important. However since we only had 6 students, we cannot draw any conclusions except that this is something to follow in a larger sample. We also intend to develop a resiliency scale that includes all the factors that Beltman and al. study identified.

The Sense of Self-Efficacy Scale did not show any significant differences between the pre- and post-tests, but again, because of the small size of the sample this is something to be followed in the future with larger samples. One has to keep in mind though that the perceived self-efficacy is not an attribute that changes in such a short time.

The Technology Use Survey did not show significant change between the two times of administration. It was surprising though that while most students seemed to have access and be knowledgeable using various types of technology tools, 67% of them never used online collaborative and sharing tools and the other 33% never used them. Also, none of the students had access to an iPad prior to this study.

By using the classification of risk/challenges factors (Table 1.) developed by Beltman et al. (2011) to analyze and present the qualitative data, we were able to identify several themes that were frequent mentioned as challenges during the student teaching. Solving certain challenges involved the use of the iPads while others required more complex solutions.

Risk/challenge factors

Classroom management/disruptive students was the challenge most frequently mentioned. The student teachers clearly did not feel prepared to cope with students who had disruptive behaviors and wished they had more training. Additionally, the fact that they were not present when the classroom rules were set, made them feel at a disadvantage.

The teacher workload in addition to actual classroom teaching was another challenge mentioned very frequently. The interns were surprised and felt overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork involved and by the nonteaching activities that the special education teachers in particular were asked to perform.

Concern about emotional involvement with their students was another frequent topic of worry for the interns. The majority were concerned about being able to separate personal from work related involvement. One student said "I'm concerned that my heart strings will want to take over when I am a teacher and how do I balance my emotions with all of my students?" They expressed their wish to be able to control their emotions "Will I be able to control my emotions or will I break down and cry?" said another.

Relationships with their colleagues was a concern for special education teachers who worried that regular education teachers did not communicate enough with them regarding inclusion of children with special needs.

Time management and organization was often mentioned as a significant challenge due to the multitude of tasks the teachers are expected to accomplish.

Protective factors

Flexibility was the quality that the student teachers mentioned often as a necessity for coping with various situations in the classroom.

Sense of competence, pride, and confidence was the next protective factor identified in teachers reflections.

Helping students succeed and having high expectations of them was mentioned by four of the six students as being an important ingredient of teacher success.

Through the reflections during the internship, the students discovered and commented on their personal and professional growth and the process of building self-confidence and self-efficacy as they became more experienced. As the student reflections progressed later into the semester, they were showing more confidence in their ability to teach and to handle unexpected situations such as behavioral manifestations. The common theme at the beginning was that they felt just like visitors in the classroom, whereas gradually they began to recognize they can have a role and the students listen to and respected them as participants in the educational process. "I have more responsibility in the classroom which is accompanied with more independence" said one student while another remarked "I know the routines and what needs to be done in the mornings, during class, and after school and I am able to get stuff done without anyone asking me to do it". This process was not easy and during many weeks they often doubted themselves, questioning and arguing back and forth their choice to become a teacher.

Intrinsic motivation for teaching in the form of declared commitment to the profession and desire to make a difference in the lives of children was implied by all interns in one way or another during their reflections and interviews.

Use of mobile technology to facilitate problem solving

During the exit interviews the interns revealed their use of the iPads during the student teaching period. We grouped these uses in the following categories: professional use, personal use, and use for problem solving.

Use of iPads for professional purposes

All students used the iPad to help them in planning their lessons, either by using it to write lesson plans on the go or by looking for applications or videos to use in their teaching. Another universally common use of the iPad was to reward the students by letting them use it for educational purposes. Still other students used the iPads to individualize instruction. For example, one intern would give the iPad to a student who needed help with reading and would let him play reading games while his classmates were involved in higher level reading activities. Another professional use was for jotting down notes while in the classroom. "The iPad is so easy to grab and so easy to access. You jot down things that you would forget otherwise". Interns also used the iPads for networking with their colleagues and for sharing or asking for teaching tips. One science education teacher declared during her exit interview that the use of technology was a point of contention between her and the classroom teacher. She said that although the classroom was equipped with a Smart Board and the students could check out laptops, these devices were never used. In addition, when the intern suggested the use of the iPad for projecting student work on the Smart Board she encountered rejection from the teacher worded as "let's do this at another time. For now, let's continue the way as I always done it." This particular example shows that the new mobile technologies have more opponents than adopters and discrepancies over their use could be another professional dilemma that novice teachers will have to solve. (There are many more examples of professional uses of the iPads)

Use of iPads for personal purposes

The interns admitted that it was easy to use the iPad for keeping a personal calendar, to-do lists, or for playing mindless games to relax after a long day at school. During such a stressful period as teacher internship, having an easy way to organize one's life and keep track of multiple tasks is definitely part of building resiliency. On the other hand, although it might seem that personal relaxation has nothing to do with solving professional dilemmas, one of the personal protective factors that play an important role in building resiliency is taking care of oneself (Beltman et al., 2011).

Use of iPads for problem solving

Although there is sufficient evidence in the data collected in this study that the student teachers used the iPad to solve many problems encountered in their internship semester, only two kept records of their challenges/professional dilemmas in a structured format as suggested by the researchers. For instance one of the interns in special education wrote this dilemma related to behavior problems in the classroom. Issue: "how do I handle a situation when a student is physical with me (tries to hit me)?" I feel very frustrated, angry, a little insulted and extremely overwhelmed." The app lets the user choose the emotions experienced and grade their intensity by sliding a lever on a continuum. The user can also add feelings that are not on the list. Identifying the feelings created by a difficult situation is the first step in acquiring the emotional control that allows rational thinking. The student continued by describing her blocking thoughts (these are usually barriers to the solving process): 1) I don't want the child to feel like they have won and hitting is an acceptable behavior; 2) I want the child to take responsibility for his actions and recognize appropriate behavior -but what is appropriate?" 3) I don't want to appear like 'tattling on the child' to the teacher in charge because they may see me as incompetent (i.e., I cannot handle the situation by myself). Then the student proceeds to pair each blocking thought with its "distractions" and with the description of a "more actionable thought" respectively. In the case of the first blocking thought (I don't want the child to feel like they have won and hitting is an acceptable behavior), the distractions chose were "all or nothing thinking" and "I-can't-stand-it-it is". The app offers a list of twelve so-called "distractions" representing the most common negative ways of thinking. The final problem solving step is the development of "more actionable thoughts" related to the blocking thought in question. In this case the student listed "I can make the child understand that they hurt me and have the child take an appropriate action to rectify the situation such as helping me finish a task."

While the "I can do for iPad" app is a valuable tool for solving everyday life problems, there is certainly a need for developing apps that can assist with professional dilemmas. Such apps should include steps related to the process of professional growth and development, as it is described by the creators of the Connect modules (http://community.fpg.unc.edu) and include the definition of the professional dilemma, formulating it in an answerable question, looking at evidence-based practices and professional literature, making a decision, and finally evaluating the decision implementation.

All students expressed their feeling of being overwhelmed by the workload of the internship and their difficulty in following the problem solving steps framework. The writing up of encountered problems was an additional task that was not required by the internship and therefore was perceived as optional. In future studies we will include the problem solving steps in the required reflections in order to be able to have a periodic and documented recording of the challenges they face and the solutions they consider in solving them.

Implications

The process through which novice teachers use and possibly develop resiliency is an important component for job satisfaction and teacher retention. We focused on the problem solving process as a main contributor to develop resilient teachers that do not only survive but thrive in adverse environments. By providing the student teachers with mobile technologies (iPads) we discovered a variety of possible apps used as strategies to cope with challenges and develop resiliency.

In an era in which mobile technology becomes the norm rather than the novelty, teacher preparation programs should explore the diverse opportunities that this offers. Although resiliency has been acknowledged as being a crucial factor in teacher retention, there are no documented approaches to date targeting it. Problem solving skills are a crucial component of resiliency and new, more complex apps need to be developed in order to provide appropriate support to professionals in the field. The study described here is only the first stage of a series of systematic inquiries in the process of building teacher resiliency with the aid of mobile technology and at incorporating the results in teacher education programs.

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