No. 3 on our list of key ed-tech trends for the new school year is the movement toward students using many devices while at school
[Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories examining five key ed-tech developments to watch for the 2014-15 school year. Our countdown continues tomorrow with No. 2.]
Marie Bjerede has noticed a shift in the way many educators are starting to think about mobile learning.
It used to be that when school leaders talked about mobile learning, they focused on a specific device and whether it was capable of mobility. Now, more school leaders are “thinking in terms of the students as mobile,” said Bjerede, who is director of the Consortium for School Networking’s Leadership for Mobile Learning  initiative.
This shift might be subtle, but it has profound implications for K-12 schools.
To be able to work effectively, “kids, like adults, need different tools for different purposes,” Bjerede explained. For responding to an in-class poll or quiz, a smart phone or tablet might suffice—but for rendering a sophisticated 3D design, a full-fledged laptop might work better.
Results from Project Tomorrow’s annual “Speak Up” survey on education and technology support this idea.
“We asked the students last year to identify for us their preferred device for a variety of academic tasks,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow . “The results pointed to a differentiation of devices that they wanted to use, based upon the inherent capabilities and roles of the devices.”
For creating a presentation, “kids want to use a laptop,” Evans noted . “Communicate or collaborate with peers: smart phone. Take notes in class: tablet. Read a book or article: digital reader.”
The idea of the ultimate one-to-one device for learning “is, in fact, a fallacy,” Evans concluded. “Kids are multi-mobilists and want to use a variety of appropriate devices for particular tasks.”
For this reason, a small but growing number of K-12 leaders no longer refer to “one-to-one” computing programs when discussing mobile learning. Instead, they’ve begun using the term “one to many.”
(Next page: What this trend means for schools—and for network capacity in particular)
The idea is that, whether they’re bringing their own devices from home or using school-issued technology, students are likely to use many different ed-tech devices throughout the school day, including multiple devices simultaneously—and K-12 leaders should plan accordingly.
That means “making sure networks are robust enough to handle this extra demand,” Bjerede said.
Vince Humes, director of innovative technology services for Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit No. 5, said he recommends planning for “at least three devices per student” when designing school networks—and as many as 50 devices per wireless access point, all streaming video at the same time.
IU5 provides technology training and services for 17 public school districts across three Pennsylvania counties. Humes said IU5 officials have noticed the “one to many” phenomenon in action while delivering ed-tech training to teachers.
In a session with, say, 60 teachers, Humes’ staff will notice 60 smart phones connected to the network simultaneously, as well as anywhere from 40 to 60 tablets and roughly the same number of laptops.
“Whenever we do any network planning for schools, we always start with that number in mind—three devices for every user,” he said. “And it might be even more than that within a few years.”