Survey: Mobile learning at a tipping point


Students said their 'ultimate school' would allow them to use mobile technology in the classroom, according to Project Tomorrow's most recent Speak Up survey.


According to a recent national survey, access to mobile technology in the classroom has more than tripled among high schools students in the past three years—and even more interesting, parents say they are more likely to purchase a mobile technology device for their child if it’s for classroom use.

The information comes from Project Tomorrow’s annual Speak Up survey and was presented at a conference on mobile learning in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29.

Focusing on mobile technology in the classroom is important, said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, because of a confluence of positive factors: matured technology, teacher buy-in, and low price points.

“Mobile technology has been developing for years, to the point where there’s now a wide variety at low prices, and each [type of mobile learning device] can provide anytime, anywhere access. Teachers are also using these devices in their everyday life and have been using technology in the classroom to the point where they feel comfortable with mobile technology for their students,” Evans said.

She continued: “And we’re also at the tipping point because most students already own a mobile device, meaning that administrators might not have to spend as much on initial hardware for tech initiatives.”

Evans said administrators also are considering the implementation of mobile learning devices because of parent buy-in.

According to Speak Up survey results, 62 percent of responding parents report that if their child’s school allowed mobile technology devices to be used for education purposes, they would likely purchase a mobile device for their child.

Even more encouraging, Evans said, is that Project Tomorrow staff found no demographic differentiation when sifting through parent responses, meaning that parents from urban, rural, and Title 1 districts all agreed that they would purchase mobile technology devices for their children’s learning.

“This gives administrators a good idea at how to better invest resources in terms of instructional technology,” said Evans. “It’s also good for administrators, and for teachers, to know that if they decide to use mobile technology in the classroom, they’ll get parental support.”

Not surprisingly, students, too, support the use of mobile learning devices in school.

According to the survey, students no longer view their schools’ internet filters as the primary barrier to using technology in the classroom, as they have in years past. Instead, when asked how schools could make it easier to use technology for school work, students’ responses indicated that they want to use their own mobile learning devices.

Student in middle school (60 percent) and high school (64 percent) prefer using their own cell phone, smart phone, or MP3 player, compared to laptops or netbooks (46 percent).

Fifty-two percent of all middle and high school students said that in their “ultimate school,” mobile technology would have the greatest positive impact on learning. Remarkably, even younger students in kindergarten through second grade indicated that they would include mobile learning devices such as cell phones or smart phones with internet access (42 percent), MP3 players or iPods (46 percent), or laptop computers for every student (52 percent) in their ultimate school.

Students said they would use their mobile learning devices mostly to look up information on the internet, take notes, record lectures, or access online textbooks.

Students also reported a desire to use mobile technology to receive reminders or alerts about homework and tests, and to communicate with their peers for collaborative work. For example, 48 percent of high school students and 34 percent of middle school students said they use Facebook and other social networking sites to collaborate with classmates on projects.

“Students are already using a variety of technologies as part of their regular school day or to complete their homework assignments, and the use of mobile technology is a perfectly logical ‘next step’ for them,” the report notes.

One step at a time

Even though using mobile technology in the classroom might seem like a no-brainer to some, many classroom teachers (76 percent) continue to express high levels of concern that students will be distracted.

Another issue is digital equity, and making sure all students have access to a mobile learning device. The Project Tomorrow report details how some schools are tackling this issue—for example, some schools are “seeding” their programs by providing devices to students who might not have their own.

Infrastructure issues, such as 24/7 broadband access, also are critical for successful mobile learning programs and “will require educators to rethink a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to technology implementation,” says the report. “Instead, educators might consider focusing on building a stable technology backbone with applications that can function reliably across many mobile devices.”

Educators and administrators also must begin to think about which subjects are best suited for using mobile technology in the classroom, what kinds of applications will be best for mobile learning, and how theft, internet safety, and network security will be addressed.

The report acknowledges that, so far, there aren’t many well-established models for success. However, there is “excitement, interest, and rapidly growing acceptance as the education community continues to explore a kaleidoscope of approaches and options” for mobile learning implementation, says the report.

“Innovation at this velocity can be what one educator described as ‘messy.’ In its early stages, teachers and administrators will need to develop comfort with ambiguity,” the report continues. “Further, they’ll need a clear understanding that because these devices can do many things … the process will be unlike any innovations that have come before.”

To help educators implement mobile technology in the classroom, Project Tomorrow has included best practices from five different schools, called “Mobile Learning Explorers,” that are on the leading edge of mobile technology implementation.

These schools are Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix; Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix; St. Mary’s City School District in St. Mary’s, Ohio; Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, Va.; and Onslow County School District in Jacksonville, N.C. Project Tomorrow’s report on mobile learning, which includes these best practices, is available here.

While it’s important to recognize and talk about these issues, students are already using mobile technology devices and “a whole host of other related applications and tools to implement their own vision for 21st-century learning, and they are not going to wait for the rest of use to catch up,” the report concludes.

“Let’s follow the lead of these Mobile Learning Explorers and pave a new path for 21st-century learning together,” it recommends.

Evans said the 2010-11 Speak Up survey has been open for two weeks and will focus on digital content, such as eTextbooks, as well as how to determine the quality of digital resources and how to evaluate these resources, how to evaluate high-quality online courses, and what technology parents have in their house for their child’s education and how they evaluate these home resources.


2009 Speak Up Survey

Project Tomorrow

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Interactive learning in the connected classroom resource center. Research has shown that technology can, indeed, help improve teaching and learning when used wisely-and companies have responded in kind, creating hardware, software, and other devices that give teachers innovative ways to engage students, improve retention, and make learning more interactive. Go to:

Interactive learning in the connected classroom

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