eSN readers candidly discuss mobile learning trends


Readers say iPads and "bring your own device" policies need careful thought.

Every few years, new technologies—and the policies that go with them—make a splash in schools, and this year, Apple’s iPad and “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies are all the rage in ed tech.

It’s no surprise, then, that recent stories about these two ed-tech trends—“Schools see rising scores with iPads” and “‘Bring your own device’ catching on in schools”—should be among our most widely read stories so far this year.

Readers expressed overwhelming support for BYOD as a strategy to get mobile learning tools into the hands of more students in a cost-effective way, although some raised questions that need to be considered as schools adopt BYOD policies of their own.

As for our story “Schools see rising scores with iPads,” which described the experience of a few California schools that have adopted iPads in the classroom, many readers said the iPad is a new way to engage students—but at the end of the day, it’s just another tool to help students learn … and perhaps some of the hype has gone too far.

“I completely agree that technology helps in productivity,” wrote a reader identified as wallace. “However, technology is just another means to get the information across to an audience. It is not the lesson. It is not a teacher who brings meaningful approaches to lessons being learned. The interaction is a necessity. Sure, questions can be eMailed, but there will most probably be a lag time in response for any number of reasons. Education will always have to go through surges of reinvention. It goes along, and parallels with, the nature of learning.”

For more on mobile learning, read:

Annual report pegs mobile learning, cloud computing as imminent

More schools piloting secure mobile devices

Survey highlights changing teacher opinions on ed tech

wallace continued, “I think the biggest challenge with advancing technology is the lack of maturity and responsibility with the users. Money, of course, is an inherent factor. Until the young generation learns that technology is not the only answer, there is still a lot more learning that comes with the application. Is there an app for that?”

Another reader, crschmiesing, wrote: “The iPads have been out for just over a year … and they are indeed ‘cool tools,’ but is it the iPad that is making a difference, or just the fact that [students] have access to this new technology? Didn’t we hear the same type of reports [before], which encouraged providing laptops for every student? Also, how much of these things actually reside on the device? In other words, if a student’s iPad is damaged, how will that impact their education? I am of the opinion that moving to a ‘cloud’ environment, where everything (from textbooks to homework assignments to apps) is readily available from the ‘net’ on practically any device (Apple, Android, Windows, etc.), would be critical to long-term success. Yes, the content must be engaging, as does the technology, but it should not be platform-specific.”

Some readers were a bit more blunt in their responses.

“Wow, after just one year this cool device has convinced everyone to replace proof with mere anecdote,” remarked hvyhytr. “What a tool—hallucinations without chemicals. Wish we’d have had these things in the 60s.”

“Ever hear of the Hawthorne Effect?” asked flanneryp, referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment, or for another intangible reason that has nothing to do with the stimuli being tested.

In this case, some readers postulated, maybe the early gains are not a result of the mobile learning technology itself, or its use in the classroom—but rather are a short-term phenomenon associated with the excitement or “newness” of the ed-tech tool.

There was less skepticism expressed over Managing Editor Laura Devaney’s story “‘Bring your own device’ catching on in schools,” which ran online April 29. Many readers responded in support of the idea, saying BYOD or BYOT (bring your own technology) policies can be a cost-effective way to leverage mobile learning tools in the classroom—although ed-tech leaders will need to carefully consider certain logistical challenges.

“As a technology facilitator in an elementary school, I totally embrace BYOD,” wrote honeydotmartin. “Of course, the students without their own device will be provided for, but the cost will be dramatically reduced if students [who] already own devices are able to use them in school. This also gives you the added bonus of using the same device at home and school.”

honeydotmartin continued, “There will be some logistics [to solve] as far as monitoring use, protecting the devices, etc. However, teaching responsibility through this experience will be valuable to the students, as the same issues exist in the real world. It, of course, would be wonderful if there [were] enough funding for all of these devices to be purchased for the schools, but it just isn’t happening.”

For more on mobile technology, read:

Annual report pegs mobile learning, cloud computing as imminent

More schools piloting secure mobile devices

Survey highlights changing teacher opinions on ed tech

Reader blankenships wrote: “BYOT is not only a great idea but will soon become the norm. As an administrator, I visit schools and with one step into the door, I feel as if I stepped into 1973. Students are sitting in rows working on work sheets or taking a test or quiz as the only type of assessment tool. Students are simply powering down at school and as soon as the last bell sounds, students enthusiastically power up. Becoming a one-to-one school can seem financially impossible, however, if 75 percent of students have smart phones, then it’s time we embrace this technology.

“If we are not preparing our 8th graders for the year 2015, then we are not preparing our students for college. It’s time schools develop a technology-friendly policy to create an environment where teachers can mesh technology with both science and math and create real-world problems. NO MORE sifting tirelessly through the textbook hunting for definitions only to copy the answer straight from the book. In the real world, I would have Googled the question in five seconds and read at least three different empirical articles related to the question in three minutes, while … creating a document simply by talking, and then simply sharing these thoughts with my peers in real time using an EtherPad!”

“Just two weeks ago, my company launched a free educational service called Celly that lets students, educators, and parents collaborate in text-based groups using BYOD cell phones,” said celly, the company’s founder. “Celly works via texting, enabling low entry-point access (does not require every user to have a smart phone), and enables group admins to moderate/filter message content and membership as needed for diverse classroom scenarios. Several schools in the Portland, Ore., area (our hometown) and around the country are running test pilots. We want to hear any feedback from educators as we believe BYOD has incredible potential. Text START to 23599 to give it a try!”

Still, some readers had questions about how ‘bring your own device’ or ‘bring your own technology’ would work in schools.

“In the article you mention a ‘custom app’ about Jamestown,” wrote hayesja. “But what if the student brings an Android device or a QNX-based tablet instead of an iPad or iPhone? Before planning any BYOT [program], you must decide what kind of ‘apps’ you will be running—whether they be IOS, Android, or strictly web-based–and then make sure that all students and parents know the ‘rules’ for BYOT. The teachers must also know what kind of apps will be used. Just because a teacher can run an app on [his or her] iPad does not mean that all students will be able to run that app on their devices.”

“Schools will need to have a robust and dense wireless infrastructure to allow students to access internal school resources,” explained mkunkel@vartek.com. “The challenge will be to create a ‘cloud’ (internal/private) which can be integrated with the public cloud. Look for technology partners who can help build this integration and maintain a stable infrastructure.”

For more on mobile technology, read:

Annual report pegs mobile learning, cloud computing as imminent

More schools piloting secure mobile devices

Survey highlights changing teacher opinions on ed tech

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