A partnership between Verizon Foundation and ISTE is creating more opportunities to use mobile devices in the classroom. The two organizations have spent the last year working on the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) program, aimed at increasing engagement and interest in STEM subjects through the use of mobile devices. To do this, the VILS program focused on providing professional development for 110 teachers, in 12 different schools across the country, on how to use mobile devices to engage and increase learning.
The program began with 3-day in-person seminars in each school, lead by ISTE coaches. These seminars focused on both relationships and strategy. They provided space for coaches to build relationships with teachers, and for teachers to build collaborative relationships with each other. The 3-day seminar also included integrating their use of mobile technology with the needs and goals of each school. Justina Nixon-Sanitil, Verizon Foundation Education Program Director explained, “Originally, we wanted to do just virtual PD, but then shifted to the blended model so that teachers and consultants could form a relationship first.”
Those three days were just the beginning. Teachers continued to work with their coaches and the rest of the VILS teachers through monthly webinars and through the Verizon Foundation’s online collaboration platform, Thinkfinity.org. They focused on topics like how to use Google Docs, how to find the right app based on learning objectives, and how to enhance school goals with mobile tools. Fifth grade teacher and VILS participant Lora Ballard revealed that by using an online platform to collaborate and share ideas on mobile implementation, “it made other teachers feel more safe to ask questions...as a teacher you feel like you’re supposed to know everything...but online you don’t feel critiqued like you would in a group of teachers.”
After spending a year focusing on mobile learning, the VILS program found a 38% increase in student engagement and 52% increase in mobile technology proficiency. But most importantly, it changed the way teachers interact with each other. As Ballard puts it, “with VILS we became a stronger team: who shares what’s working, what’s not working, and helps each other problem solve technology."
The teachers, part of the VILS’ first cohort, met at the ISTE 2013 conference and will continue with the program for an additional year. Verizon has also announced that they intend on bringing in an additional 12 more schools into the program to expand their impact in for the 2013-14 school year.