From teacher to entrepreneur to UNESCO

As a teacher, teacher-trainer, and mobile content entrepreneur I have developed a research-based approach to mobile learning that will be presented at the forthcoming UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in Paris, February 2014.  Designed to support young people with language and literacy needs, the innovative approach of the App, along with results from testing carried out in Ireland and internationally, was selected from over 180 proposals UNESCO received worldwide.  The proposal was considered “outstanding” and contained considerable “expertise and experience” that could be shared with an international audience.

I started using mobile phones with my students in 1996 (pre Smartphone) and quickly realised the impact of engaging with young people underachieving in education, on their terms.  As a teacher-trainer, I supported teachers ill-equipped to deal with the challenge of addressing diverse learning needs in multilingual classrooms. Teaching adults, I saw how they as parents often struggled to help their own children with homework.  With classrooms already full of gadgets that have had little of no impact on teaching and learning, I sought to create a mobile application capable of addressing a multitude of challenges, that could be used internationally and developed cost effectively.

Technology in education will only work when it partners with pedagogy.  I identified a body of research carried out by Trinity College, Dublin that received international endorsement in the area of language and literacy development.   Given that resources from the study had been downloaded in over 110 countries, I saw an opportunity to adapt this research for mobile learning to address a range of challenges in education today.   After evaluating over 2,000 apps and interviewing 500 16-year olds in Irish secondary schools about their views of literacy and mobile learning within a science context, I developed the Keywords in Context App. Within Ireland, testing is taking place in schools as well as informally. In the UK a number of different types of secondary schools are involved, along with a group of children preparing to start secondary school in 2014.   In one study in an after-school club for young people with low literacy levels / dyslexia, one student went from 13.75% to 50%, another went from 58.75% to 70%, and a third went from 36% to 76.25%.

As education budgets shrink, classroom populations explode, and teacher training fails to keep pace with the rate of change, cost effective mobile solutions capable of addressing a multitude of challenges simultaneously, are required.   Given that UNESCO is focusing on teachers, I have been selected to present  findings from this study, along with emerging business models to an audience keen to harness the potential of mobile technology to deliver on the Education for All Agenda.



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