Welcome to the third installment in our series of Mobl21 interviews!
This week, Mobl21 talks to Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford High School, NJ, for in-the-classroom news on how mobile learning and technology is being viewed and used.
Mobl21: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the education field.
Eric: I am the Principal at New Milford High School (NJ) and have the best job in the world. The funny thing is I swore that I would never become on educator. My heart was set on pursuing a career in marine sciences and later found myself pursuing a Masters Degree in fisheries biology. It was during this latter stint that I was a graduate teaching assistant and realized my passion lay in education. Thus my journey into the field began.
Mobl21: When did your interest in educational technology begin?
Eric: I have always had an affinity for educational technology, but it wasn’t until March 2009 that I truly realized its potential impact on student engagement and learning. It was at this time that I joined Twitter and discovered a vibrant educational community where I began to learn about Web 2.0 technologies. I quickly realized that many of these tools were free and allowed students to unleash their creativity while making the learning process more relevant and meaningful. With this new knowledge in hand and a virtual support structure comprising thousands of educators from all corners of the globe, I began to work with my staff on effective integration techniques.
Mobl21: What do you think are some of the challenges schools are facing to introduce technology within the classroom?
Eric: Probably the number one challenge is budgetary constraints. Let’s face it, budget cuts over the past year have had a devastating impact on schools. The purchase of technology becomes a low priority when districts are struggling to keep staff and programs. Another challenge is equitable access. The key to introducing mobile technologies into schools lies in a wireless infrastructure that can support the Internet on these devices. The lack of a wireless network restricts the introduction of mobile learning devices that can really personalize the educational experience for students. Schools in rural areas are at a real disadvantage as many of the major carriers have yet to establish wireless signals in these areas.
Mobl21: Can you tell us a little about a specific technology initiative or innovation that you have successfully incorporated into your school?
Eric: To this day, students at my school do not have network access to save and store their work. After becoming a Google Certified Teacher at the first ever Google Teachers Academy for Administrators (San Antonio 2010), I began to envision how I could not only solve this pressing issue, but also increase collaboration amongst my students. During the spring of 2010, I worked with both high school and middle school staff to rewrite our Computer Applications curriculum that was based on MS Office. At the high school level, every 9th grade student (approximately 160) enrolled in Computer Applications are now taught how to properly use Google Docs and MS Office. Next year students will come to NMHS with basic working knowledge of Google Docs as a result of the curriculum change at the middle school level. This will then allow my teachers to focus on more advanced skills. Additionally, I created a Professional Improvement Plan (PIP) objective for all of my teachers based around Google Docs so that their use is properly modeled for students on a consistent basis and projects that are assigned have to be completed/submitted using this format. Each teacher also has to collaborate and develop an interdisciplinary lesson with staff members from different departments using Google Docs. All staff members signed off on this PIP objective and were extremely receptive to it. It has been very rewarding as I conduct observations and classroom walkthroughs and see so many of my teachers and students now routinely utilizing Google Docs.
Mobl21: How ready are schools today for mobile learning?
Eric: This is a tough question. In all honesty I don’t think that the majority of schools are ready for mobile learning. There still seems to be a massive disconnect between schools and the 21st Century learners they serve. Many schools feel that mobile learning devices are a distraction to the learning process, promote cyberbullying, reinforce bad habits, and enable anti-social behaviors. Throw in the lack of access and all of these factors combined provide schools with the excuses to avoid any discussion on integrating these innovative tools. Professional development and training is yet another factor impacting the readiness of schools to embrace mobile learning. The good news here is that I am beginning to see more relevant conferences, workshops, and presenters in this area. This will eventually lay the pedagogical foundation schools need to establish innovative programs that effectively integrate mobile learning technology.
Mobl21: Has your school experienced or experimented in any mobile learning activities? If so could you tell us a little about it?
Eric: New Milford High School teachers are beginning to incorporate student-owned devices (i.e. cell phones) and utilizing programs such as Poll Everywhere to check for understanding, assess, and give every student a voice. A few years ago I also purchased a mobile iPod learning lab that consists of a Bretford PowerSync cart, iPod nanos each with a Belkin TuneTalk recording device, and iPod Touches. Teachers are using the lab to create authentic podcasts.
Mobl21: What are some of the concerns teachers have with using mobile devices for learning?
Eric: Concerns range from students being off task, texting in class, cyberbullying, to accessing inappropriate sites on their phones. Other concerns include theft and damage to devices as well as equitable access.
Mobl21: What are students reactions to mobile learning?
Eric: Speak to virtually any student and they will tell you that their mobile devices are extensions of their own bodies. As digital natives they immerse themselves in technology. When I mention to them that NMHS is interested in leveraging these same tools that they have become so accustomed to for learning in school they immediately become excited. Engagement is so important in terms of learning, which is why it makes sense to work collaboratively with students to integrate mobile learning.
Mobl21: By when do you see mobile learning becoming a regular part of student’s education?
Eric: As technology continues to evolve at a feverish pace I believe that many schools will begin to engage in serious discussions on how to best make mobile learning one of many components of a student’s education in the 21st Century. All one has to do is pick up a newspaper or educational magazine and see advances such as digital textbooks, tablet devices, virtual schooling, and video conferencing being deployed in schools to support mobile learning. It will become commonplace as budgets stabilize, wireless access becomes more equitable, stakeholders are educated on the benefits, and training programs are put into place.
About Eric Sheninger
Eric is Principal at New Milford High School located in Bergen County, NJ. As an educational administrator he firmly believes that effective communication, shared decision-making, and the integration of technology are essential elements necessary for the transformation of school cultures.
Eric is passionate about fostering learning environments that are student-centric, collaborative, and prepare all learners to succeed in the 21st Century. An innovative leader in the use of social media and web 2.0 technology as tools to engage students, Eric has worked to improve communications with stakeholders, and help educators grow professionally. He is a Google Certified Teacher, an ASCD 2011 Conference Scholar, and was also named to the NSBA “20 to Watch” list in 2010 for technology leadership.
For more information on Eric and what’s happening at New Milford High School visit www.ericsheninger.com