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One of the fantastic project based learning solutions that came out of our Massively Productive #red project with K12 distance and rural educators was “How can we help you learn with mobiles”.

The problem statement surrounds the high numbers of students simply don’t respond to using a learning management system. They don’t log in, rendering all the instructional designed course beyond  unprofitable. This problem leads to a series of escalating pleas, threats and punitive measures which are largely ignored in a game of distance cat and mouse. As the project sketch played out, discussions turned to the transmissive use of SMS messages by schools. It seems most schools use SMS to tell parents that students are not attending school, however the gateway is not used in duplex – students can’t SMS teachers. The irony is that mobiles are banned for students  yet assumed that parents have them – as this is useful to the functional needs of school administration and proof of action. Mass SMS-ing, I am lead to believe is common practice at high public cost with un-reported results in it’s impact on improving student performance or attendance. It obviously ticks a complience box, but if this is all mobiles and SMS is seen as useful for, it’s quite depressing.

Giving students the teacher’s mobile was seen as risky, as was holding the student or parent mobile number on the teachers phone despite this information often being available via administration systems to teachers to call them. The convention is to use the official school phone to contact, or rely on the school SMS gateway to transmit a punitive message to the parent, which one assumes is then relayed to the child – assuming that is possible. In many cases the parents ignore it as well.

The project, as always, needs to make a product, and a case to an audience. The idea was to look at how kids use their phones to learn and to communicate – bringing in aspects of recent events in the UK, how developing nations are using phones, and some quantitative research around the students and their community. This case would them be presented to the people who are running the SMS transmission gateway, in order to argue how it might be better used by students to access and participate in online learning – especially in areas where actually accessing a computer and the internet is proving inadequate.

What is impressive here, is that this project was rendered by a group of teachers, brand new to PBL, in a day as their first. It is wide enough to work at all ages and stages, it has ties to current issues, known frustrations and solves a very large problem that both teachers and students face. Best of all it takes the case to the people who make decisions, policy and rules about the use of phones. The group mapped the project it NSW BOS outcomes, ISTE NETs for students and ISTE NETs for teachers and suggested several great ways of assessing the project. Best of all, it drives an innovation – as the guiding questions use SMS for delivery and response to the students. You might think this is too simple or limited, given the access we have to LMS, blogs and wikis. Consider though, that very high numbers of students simple do not respond to anything. Responding via a text might well be the first level of engagement with learning they have had in a long time.

Gratz! to the group for working so hard. It illustrates just why PBL  allows teachers and students to find, and solve meaningful problems – not cover content-standards, but leads to visible social action.

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