The York County School Division also allows students to bring in their own devices and use them for instructional purposes. Recently, a middle school forensics science teacher had students taking photos of mock crime scenes using their cell phones. Students sent the photos to the teacher, who displayed them on a screen in the classroom for use in analyzing the crime scenes. When a student doesn’t have a device, he or she simply works with a student who does.
At this point in time, at the high school level, a very high percentage of students do have their own mobile devices, says Schad.
Additionally, Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up survey indicated that 67 percent of parents said they would be willing to provide their child with a smart phone if the school allowed it to be used for education. That number was pretty stable across urban and rural districts, says Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow.
“Parents are thinking of smart phones as different from a laptop. It’s like paying for violin lessons, paying for a field trip or a calculator,” Evans says. “It’s a whole different category.”
In fact, Elliot Soloway, founder and chief executive of GoKnow, an education consultancy, predicts that by 2016, nearly every K-12 student in the U.S. will be using a mobile handheld device as an important part of his or her education. Greaves agrees: “I think the issue of whether it’s a student-owned device or a school-owned device is in migration. I think in five years or so, it will shift to student-owned devices. It’s like calculators: bringing a calculator to school is your own responsibility.”
Pricing is another major hurdle. The devices themselves often are subsidized by wireless providers; second-generation devices can be given or sold cheaply to schools once a new generation of device is released to the market. And besides, the devices are significantly less expensive than PCs or laptops. But the data plans that enable students to access the internet anytime, anywhere—that is, via a 3G or 4G network, allowing students to go online even when they are not connected to the school’s wireless network—can cost as much as $35 per student, per month.
Part of the challenge for schools is that the federal e-Rate program, which provides telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries, does not discount the cost of the data plan—although there is an e-Rate pilot program for wireless internet services for off-campus student use planned for next year.
Cost might not be an issue for long, Cathie Norris, Regents Professor at the University of North Texas, who works with Soloway, believes. “Eventually, you’ll get to the point where every student will be able to use [his or her] own device” at school, she says—the implication being that parents will be paying for the data plans themselves.