What Makes the Mobile Learning Lab Successful? Lessons from Comitancillo
On our last day in Guatemala, we visited two schools outside the town of Comitancillo to see the Mobile Learning Lab (MLL) in action. We were so impressed with what we found: teachers and students deeply engaged in a new way of learning.
Escuela La Florida, a primary school with classes from kindergarten to grade 6, was the first school we visited. The students welcomed us enthusiastically, singing and dancing, and the principal greeted us with emotion and feeling. He has been at La Florida for most of his career and he told us how fortunate his students are to have access to technology.
Despite living in a rural indigenous community far from a big city, he said his students were amazingly lucky to be able to use state-of-the art tools that would provide them with lifelong learning skills. Unable to continue at times, his voice trembling with emotion, he thanked 60 million girls, Change for Children and our local partner, the Mayan Mam Association for Research and Development (AMMID) for supporting his students in this way. It was a deeply touching moment.
Interestingly, local education authorities are also interested in understanding how the MLL can contribute to education in the area. They are monitoring its success and are looking at the MLL as a model for broader intervention. This is because of the community’s tremendous enthusiasm and its impact on learning and classroom pedagogy. So along with Darwen, Lionel and Ruben from AMMID, who accompanied us throughout our visit, local representatives from the Ministry of Education joined us as well.
The Mobile Learning Lab engages students and facilitates learning
As part of our visit, we participated in a grade 6 class exercise to develop a concept map. They had chosen “tipicos de textos” as their theme. At first we weren’t sure what this meant. But as the class progressed, it soon became clear.
In groups of four, the 12 students in the class – equal numbers of boys and girls – turned to their tablets to search for more detailed definitions and examples of different types of texts or writing styles.
The teacher, an older gentleman, walked among the teams but rarely intervened. He was there only to guide the students. Each team had a large sheet of poster-sized paper along with smaller sheets on which to create a concept map and make notes in preparation for their presentations.
After about 30 minutes of research, the teams presented their findings. They each contributed new elements and examples that the teacher then pulled together to summarize the theme of the day.
Approach mirrors self-directed learning – with teacher support
This way of teaching is similar to Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) method that enables students to actively participate in learning. Teachers start by asking a “big question,” and then students use videos, texts and encyclopedias on the RACHEL (the hotspot, or mini-server, that connects the content to the devices) to look for answers.
In working together, the children learn alongside their peers and the teams often share their findings with each other. The SOLE method is collaborative and interactive, and it has been shown to impact the retention of new material. This is because the children not only hear information, they also read, write, and illustrate what they have learned. They are absorbing new information in many different ways.
When we first entered the classroom, the students were all sitting quietly at their desks. However, as they used a variety of skills and talents, the room was transformed into an animated and lively space. There was no chance that they would doze off or tune out!
Escuela Basic de Comitancillo
We next visited one of the lower secondary schools in the community. Here, students attend school from 1 to 6 pm after working at home in the mornings to help their families.
At Escuela Basic, we observed two different classes in action, each using the MLL with the SOLE interactive learning method. These first-year lower secondary students were in a math and Spanish language class.
The two female teachers were fully engaged. Although it had been only six months since the introduction of the tablets, you would have thought this was how they had taught throughout their careers.
The teachers were confident, encouraging and thoughtful, very much focused on the well-being of their students. Even if student teams had not quite understood the concept theme after their research and presentation, they still received applause and encouragement. Once all the students had presented, the teacher expertly selected the main points from each group’s concept map, enabling her to fully explain the concept with additional examples and real-life situations.
Teacher engagement critical
It’s clear that a number of factors contribute to the success of implementing this new pedagogy:
Like the students, the teachers at these schools love the variety of content and information sources. Not only is the amount of information greater, the quality of the learning tools is also better than what is available in traditional textbooks. Beyond the extensive content, the MLL presents information in an engaging way so that the kids are always asking for more. What could be better than that?
Evaluation will help finesse MLL approach to optimize learning
We were very impressed with the successful rollout of the MLLs in these communities and look forward to reading the evaluation report at the end of the first year of the project. This will allow us to keep upgrading the MLL model to be more effective, particularly as additional communities and schools adopt this way of learning.
Change for Children is working with a local university and Mundo Posible to analyze the data they have collected to measure changes in learning outcomes.
We thanked the staff of AMMID on our last evening together. They showed great openness to trying new things. They were willing to learn from our experience, and combine their community knowledge and social activism skills, as well as Change for Children’s project development skills, to successfully implement these projects. They strongly believe in the positive impact the MLLs are bringing to their communities.
As always, I am encouraged, hopeful and amazed after meeting these vibrant students who dream of becoming teachers, doctors, lawyers, policewomen and graphic designers. I have no doubt they have the potential to reach their goals, despite the enormous challenges they face.
Next… Canoeing up to the tropical rainforest of the Bosawàs biosphere in Nicaragua!
President and Founder, 60 million girls