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Mobile Makes Learning Free: Building Conceptual, Professional, and School Capacity

reviewed by Camille Martinez-Yaden - June 21, 2017

coverTitle: Mobile Makes Learning Free: Building Conceptual, Professional, and School Capacity
Author(s): Boris Handal
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681232839, Pages: 172, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com

Boris Handal states that the purpose of this relatively short book (150 pages) is “to reflect and provide new conceptual frameworks for understanding good practice in the field of M-learning.” As a reviewer, I wondered if this book, which is designed to help readers think innovatively about technology integration, accomplishes the purpose. Handal offers his argument to a rather broad, global cadre of stakeholders, including elementary and secondary students, teachers, parents, as well as school site and district administrators. He suggests that the nature of the “grasshopping mind,” which is nonlinear and has tendencies for heterarchical learning, can benefit from the affordances of mobile technology like phones, tablets, iPads, and connectivity. Handal further asserts that these devices coupled with M-learning have the capacity to transform educational spaces and landscapes from a static, place-based enterprise to one where the world’s knowledge, resources, and repositories can be marshaled anywhere, at any time, and by nearly every age of learner. However, Handal broadly assumes that there is equity among the types of devices, the connectivity capabilities, and accessibility.

Chapters One to Three provide the initial rationale and foundation for the M-learning movement. Chapters Four through Six outline the affordances and constraints of different mobile devices, the functionality and application of various apps, and the criteria to evaluate curricular goals with “mobile learning wrap.” Chapter Seven discusses the overall curricular goal of creating digital citizens. The remaining chapters describe who the key stakeholders are and how they can organize themselves to support flexible, nurturing, non-hierarchical M-learning and digital citizenship environments. The sections that follow provide additional detail and commentary about the book’s content.

Chapter One provides a cursory review of how education has been variously shaped and reshaped by philosophy, economics, and psychology over the past half millennia. Chapter Two introduces the concept of the “grasshopping mind,” which Handal characterizes as the present Generation-Z with their multi-linear, hyper-linking, intuitive, guess and check, and working backwards tendencies. Chapter Three introduces the tensions between stakeholders– students, teachers, parents, and administrators– related to introducing M-learning in school environments. This chapter raises problematic issues and concerns of varying opinions and positions about electronic and digital learning, and who needs to be convinced of its merits. In particular, this chapter highlights the gamut of key stakeholders’ goals, and foreshadows solutions for resolving the conflicts with the KITE organizational model introduced later in Chapters Eight through Twelve.

While Handal contrasts “grasshopper” learning in Chapter Two with a traditional “inchworm” approach, which Handal describes as more “scientific,” resulting in deep knowledge and disciplined study, no such terms are applied to the “grasshopper.” It was all too easy to call up the Ant and the Grasshopper fable and wonder: what kind of learning is fostered by M-learning? It seems to be a serious omission for Handal not to at least characterize “grasshopper learning” as also leading to “deep knowledge,” or alternative and equivalent intellectual outcomes. The reader must assume that it does.       

In Chapters Four through Six however, Handal digs down informatively into the constraints and affordances of various types of mobile devices, providing insightful evaluative criteria for the plethora of available apps and suggests several “mobile learning wraps” with ways for teachers to assess their curricular impact. For example, Chapter Four discusses several variants of BYOD (bring your own device) and discusses how the choice of a device itself drives the learning and what can be accomplished given its functionality. Chapter Five introduces the TMCI (Task Model of Curriculum Integration) and provides a description of the four types of apps (production, exploration, information-retrieval, and instruction), their instructional roles, the disciplines to which they can be applied, and two very useful tables (5.6; 5.7) for outlining a critical evaluation framework. Finally, Chapter Six discusses “mobile wraps” and several key aspects of app and device functionality, as well as the curricular goal that each application allows, for example, “self-containment,” “student control,” “theme-driven,” “gaming,” and “curriculum alignment.”


Chapters Four through Six provide a broad and specific outline of how M-learning could be conducted across several environments with various devices, functionalities, and curricular purposes. However, additional depth and extended examples of applications’ use within various disciplines was not included. In fact, the book as a whole provides aerial discussions of most of the concepts, leaving the detail of curriculum planning, student training with the mobile devices and apps, or professional development among a teaching staff, up to the judgment of the reader. Nonetheless, for readers looking for broad ideas for how to implement M-learning in a school and its community, Handal’s book provides a fair amount of general guidance regarding the technology within these three chapters.

Handal’s discussion of “digital citizenship” in Chapter Seven could very well stand alone as its own section of the book, as digital citizenship is described as the overall curricular goal and the hopeful outcomes of M-learning. Handal stresses that in all phases of M-learning much consideration must be given to understanding privacy issues, intellectual property, control and access to resources, and equity of use across populations of students and communities. Unfortunately, there are few examples of what types of specific experiences might foster such citizenship.

In Chapters Eight through Thirteen, Handal introduces an organizational structure called the KITE Model that employs the metaphor of a kite with four points (the ends and the cross bars) representing the key stakeholders (Kids, Interest Groups, Teachers, and Executives/Administrators) who need to be collaborating together in establishing and maintaining a healthy M-learning environment with digital citizenship as its goal. The KITE Model is deliberately meant to be heterarchical as opposed to hierarchical in order to allow for “self-organizing” structures to flourish as each stakeholder group cooperates and integrates their strengths, expectations, resources, and necessary compromises. An analogy to wind pressure comes to mind with drag, thrust, gravity, lift, and pull needed to keep the kite flying steadily or the M-learning environment moving forward.

Chapter Nine discusses the key role to be played by “digital natives” who should be acknowledged as being “smarter” with digital devices than adults, and who are able to make independent decisions about their own learning. Parents and communities, described in Chapter Ten, make up another point in the KITE Model, where learning happens inside and out of the classroom and in many different spaces. Parents and other adults play important roles in providing financial support for students as well as connecting and building key partnerships with universities, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations in creating flexible and robust learning spaces.

Chapter Eleven provides a longer discussion related to the necessary development of teaching personnel who must move away from traditional roles as dispensers of knowledge toward roles that embrace new technologies, enabling them to develop and serve as empowering forces for children and youth. Chapter Twelve is devoted to school administrators as change enablers. According to Handal, these administrators are catalysts for marshaling school resources, affecting powerful professional learning opportunities, and ensuring that technology, including M-learning is integrated into all aspects of the school curriculum. This chapter provides a useful graphic of the developing levels of M-learning adoption ranging from little awareness to skillful integration within in-school and out-of-school environments. Finally, Chapter Thirteen outlines a possible developmental M-learning Model adoption trajectory, which Handal suggests could take up to a year depending on the synergism of the stakeholders, and he includes the succeeding three phases of preparation, trialing, and full implementation.

Overall, while I found Handal’s book to be useful, particularly the informative suggestions in Chapters Four through Six regarding M-learning’s classroom implementation, there is virtually no detail about the thornier issues that impede a school’s transformative abilities, such as inequitable resource distribution across school communities. This omission stood out, especially since Handal visited over 100 learning sites across Canada, United States, and Australia. Handal did not address what to do about uneven digital knowledge among students and teachers, and left questions of protecting privacy in digital environments unresolved. I sought detail about actual outcomes of M-learning as related to “deep knowledge” and “disciplined study,” but ultimately, none were offered.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 21, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22056, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 7:01:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Camille Martinez-Yaden
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    CAMILLE MARTINEZ is a research scholar/practitioner working on a doctoral degree in the Language, Reading, and Culture program at the University of Arizona. She holds graduate degrees in Curriculum and Teaching (Harvard), Early Childhood Education (University of Southern California) and Educational Leadership (University of Arizona). Her research interests include identity formation in middle school-aged female students with career and college aspirations in STEM-related fields, critical pedagogy, Indigenous teacher preparation, early childhood assessment, and learning and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Her recent work on early childhood assessment has been published in the Handbook on Research Methods in Early Childhood Education, Vol. II.
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