Bliss, Anne and Heintzman, Anne, (2003). Problems and Solutions:Teaching with a Mobile Wireless Lab.
I chose to review this article because in my work with schools as a tech coach next year I will have access to wireless mobile labs that I can bring to classrooms for use in on-going literacy projects, and I’m interested in the problems and benefits of using them.
Bliss and Heintzman presented this conference paper based on studies of writing composition classes at the post-secondary level using wireless mobile labs (ranging from 1995 – 2002). Issues were presented in three areas: classroom, instructors and administration and I’d be interested to know whether any of you think that the benefits and challenges presented by Bliss and Heintzman are still relevant today.
Initially, both instructors and students perceive the time spent in the setup and putting away of the mobile lab to be the biggest concern in the classroom, seeming to take away from instructional time, however, this view generally changes after some experience with using the mobile lab. Instructors need to troubleshoot technical difficulties with the laptops, work through some internet connection issues, and teach students basic use (e.g. how to share files, submit their work, use the class website and make comments on the work of others) since students come with a variety of technical expertise with computers. It’s best if the instructor can get to class a bit early and start the setup with the lab, something that might be easier in K-12 classrooms than in post-secondary where time and travel between classes might be more of an issue. The authors found that setup and take down becomes easier and more automatic once students are trained in an organized and efficient way to handle the laptops, and as instructors become more experienced in finding a system that works well. During the time when students are booting up the computers and logging in, instructors can make good use of this time by making class announcements or asking about questions and concerns. Some students found this waiting time lengthy, while others liked that everything they needed was always right there; no forgotten books or papers.
Once instructors became experienced in teaching with the mobile lab, the authors found that the time spent dealing with laptops was not any longer than the time that instructors spend on the paper shuffle in the classroom. Far less time was needed to hand out, hand in, and organize paper; lost papers were eliminated, and absent students were easily informed of what they missed. Supporting students new to technology by covering the basic computer skills at the beginning of the course, using peer support to share skills, and making sure students understand the computer component of the course prior to registration is recommended.
Benefits of using mobile wireless labs in the classroom included
- no lost papers
- far less photocopying (papers are posted once on the class website)
- no need to take attendance
- a log of student participation is kept electronically
- absent members can keep up with work
- sharing and group work is more easily accomplished
- no issues about illegible handwriting
- student work and grading is visible to all therefore providing a transparency that benefits all
The prominent issue initially was trying to find the time for training on the new technologies to learn the new skills necessary to teach with the mobile lab. Once basic training of instructors occurred, there was a benefit in less time for future class preparation and enhanced teaching effectiveness. Once they learned how to set up a class electronically most instructors felt that it was an efficient way to keep students informed, make changes, and help absent students keep up, therefore less class time was used for announcements, it took less time to photocopy materials, and office hours were used more productively to help students. Adding technology to courses in small steps is recommended so that the learning curve for instructors is manageable over several semesters
Bliss and Heintzman indicate that security and maintenance are the primary administrative issues concerning the use of mobile labs. Usually many instructors and many students are using the same machines daily, therefore clear communication about difficulties, user changes, and technical difficulties are critical. Service for the laptops is required regularly and needs to be organized so that it doesn’t disrupt instructional time. The authors recommend that administration seek instructors who volunteer to teach with this technology rather than randomly assign it, since this will provide a more motivated cohesive group to solve the problems that may arise when starting with this new technology.