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Partnering with parents can help ensure the success of mobile learning programs

Despite their support for mobile learning, parents consider most apps and content that their children use regularly “purely entertainment.”

Don’t overlook parents as key partners in the success of mobile learning initiatives, a new report suggests.

The report, commissioned by AT&T and written by Grunwald Associates based on a national survey, highlights the perceptions of parents of a mobile generation, from preschoolers through high school-age students. It confirms that strong educational leadership can have a positive influence on how parents view mobile learning initiatives.

“Parent perceptions matter,” the report states. “Their support and influence can smooth the way for educational technology in schools and help overcome the limitations of school coffers, without which digital initiatives can stall.”

Parents who report that their children’s schools use mobile devices for learning have much stronger positive perceptions than other parents do about the learning benefits of mobile technology, the report says, adding: “Seeing, perhaps, is believing.”

Seventy-seven percent of families have at least one smart phone at home, and almost half (46 percent) have at least one tablet. Tablet ownership isn’t just for the tech savvy or for those who tend to buy the next new shiny object, either, the report says; 44 percent of parents who say they can be intimidated by technology already own tablets.

Parents of high school students report higher ownership of portable computers, MP3 players, and the iPod Touch. Parents of students in grades 3-5 report higher ownership of handheld gaming devices, tablets, and eReader devices, and parents of pre-K children report the highest ownership of smart phones.

“The takeaway here: Family ownership of technology tracks with the stages of children’s development,” the report says. “The exception is smart phone ownership among pre-K parents.”

(Next page: Five recommendations for school leaders)

Parents of young students (grades K-2) most strongly agree that mobile devices and apps can “make learning fun, promote curiosity, and teach problem solving,” according to the report. “Parents of middle and high school students most strongly agree that mobiles and apps can help them connect and communicate with their child.”

Still, parents aren’t completely won over.

Despite their strong positive attitudes about the potential of mobile devices for learning, parents consider most apps and content that their children use regularly “purely entertainment.” A substantial percentage of parents (62 percent) believe mobile devices can be a distraction, and one in four parents says mobile devices aren’t effective educational tools.

Parents look to schools for guidance on helping their children use mobile devices and apps for education, the report says. Seventy percent of parents agree that teachers should recommend apps for students to use; 43 percent say they need help finding good educational apps for their children; and 64 percent schools should help students use devices safely.

“Educators have an opportunity to bridge the gaps between the perceived value and the reported use (or lack thereof) of mobile devices in classrooms,” the report concludes. It offers the following recommendations for educators:

• Model the safe, productive use of mobile devices as learning tools.

• Partner with parents to make the case for mobile learning, develop mobile device policies, and showcase best practices—particularly for parents who are not yet persuaded.

• Enlist the support of parents who tend to be the most positive about mobile learning, including parents of younger children, parents of “super users,” and tech-savvy parents.

• Offer authoritative information and advice to parents and students on how to make better use of mobile devices and apps for learning, rather than for entertainment only, and how to use them safely—and differentiate this guidance for different grade levels.

• Do a better job communicating mobile device policies with parents—the “back to school” packet of information might not be enough.

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Dennis Pierce

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