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Tips and success stories for effective mobile learning

Good mobile learning programs focus on learning, and not just devices, the report notes.

More and more schools are using mobile learning devices to help boost student engagement and achievement, and a new monograph from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) examines some of the best practices in mobile devices from schools across the nation.

“Small Size, Big Potential: Mobile Learning Devices in School,” the third and final component from CoSN’s 2011 Compendium, profiles Oregon’s Canby School District, Chicago Public Schools, Katy Independent School District in Texas, Minnesota’s Osseo School District, and Ohio’s St. Mary’s City Schools.

The school districts share their experiences with one-to-one computing implementations, launching “bring your own device” programs, and overcoming obstacles such as budget constraints.

“From smart phones to tablets, mobile devices are changing the traditional methods of K-12 teaching and learning, offering schools advanced, affordable solutions toward creating a more collaborative, engaging and personalized learning environment,” said Lucy Gray, project director of CoSN’s Leadership for Mobile Learning Initiative and author of the monograph. “Schools embracing these technologies are helping to shape 21st century classrooms and are paving the way for other districts by documenting their best practices and maintaining an open dialogue on how to implement robust, successful mobile learning programs.”

For more on mobile learning, see:

Education’s Guide to Mobile Learning Devices

Mobile learning: Not just laptops any more

Educators and students have a number of options when it comes to mobile learning devices, including laptops, netbooks, tablets, eReaders, and smart phones. According to the monograph, laptops and netbooks maintain a large presence in one-to-one computing programs, but many schools are opting to use smart phones or tablets when they launch new mobile pilots.

“Bring your own device” (BYOD) pilots also are gaining steam, with more schools realizing the benefits to be had when students bring their own technology tools–especially in tough budget times.

Online resources and digital textbooks and tools also are on the rise, buoyed in part by the rise of the Common Core State Standards and publishers that are producing mobile apps and other digital tools.

But while mobile learning devices and their use and promise in classrooms continue to increase, the monograph notes that there are a handful of challenges facing schools and districts, including:

  • Budgets, especially budgeting for school-provided mobile devices;
  • eRate eligibility and broadband access;
  • Device management; and
  • Narrowing down appropriate and most useful apps for mobile devices.

“The more district leaders have an opportunity to learn from each other’s best practices, the more they can bring to scale what is working to ensure our students thrive and graduate from school college and career ready,” said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger. Krueger added that CoSN hopes the monograph will help other districts learn how they might successfully and seamlessly integrate mobile learning into classroom instruction.

The monograph includes 10 tips for launching and sustaining a successful mobile learning initiative:

  1. Start with a thorough understanding of your school’s culture.
  2. Create a strategic, multi-year district plan for mobile learning.
  3. Conduct a total cost of ownership analysis and have a plan to sustain the initiative.
  4. Begin with a pilot and then expand.
  5. Re-evaluate acceptable use policies in light of mobile devices.
  6. Approach professional development with a creative mind.
  7. Let early adopters and tech-savvy teachers mentor others as the initiative gains speed.
  8. Make sure all district buildings have sufficient high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi access.
  9. Listen to parents and enlist their support; communicate with them often.
  10. Make the focus on improving teaching and learning, not on mobile devices for the sake of mobile devices.

The monograph is available to CoSN members as a PDF download in MyCoSN.

District success stories

The Canby School District in Canby, Ore., operates a one-to-one computing initiative in grades K-12. The district’s schools provide iPods, iPod Touch devices, and iPads to students and teachers. Almost 200 district classrooms have mobile devices, and several iPod carts exist for shared use.

Canby compared data on third, fourth, and fifth grade students who used iPod Touch devices with students in the same grade levels who had no access to the devices. In almost all classrooms in the 2009-10 school year, students who used the devices scored better on state reading and math tests than their peers who did not have access to the devices.

The district has a large English Language Learner (ELL) population, and ELL students, along with economically disadvantaged and special-needs students, performed especially well.

Eighty-five percent of fourth graders said that using iPods to record and listen to themselves reading helped them become better readers, and 77 percent said they read for longer periods of time when they use an iPod Touch to listen to an audio book.

The district deploys mobile learning devices centrally, and schools manage them, with teachers stepping in to add apps and content from district-managed iTunes accounts.

“Teachers and students are fully engaged and the conversation is not about tech stuff, but about actual learning and content and interest,” said Joe Morelock, Canby’s director of technology and innovation.

The district plans to expand its one-to-one computing initiative to every K-12 classroom in the future.

Osseo School District ISD 270 in Maple Grove, Minn., has conducted Project Copernicus, its BYOD program, for the past three years.

Grades 5-12 in the 21,000-student district participate in the program, with students bringing in personal devices such as smart phones and laptops.

“We don’t have the funds to enact our own 1-to-1 program, but we believe that each student having access to an internet-connected device is essential,” said Osseo CIO Tim Wilson.

During the program’s first year, three of the district’s nine schools, and eight individual classrooms, participated. More than 30 classrooms participated during the second year, and 80 classrooms are participating in the program’s third year.

Wilson kept open communication with school leaders and teachers and invited them to discuss concerns and potential conflicts—such as theft or technology problems—that might arise as the program began.

As long as a student’s device is wireless and can connect to the internet, it is permitted to be used as part of the program.

A Wi-Fi connection is available in all instructional areas in participating schools.

In the program’s first year, equitable access was a large concern, and the district gave each participating class three netbooks and three iPod Touch devices. But over time, Wilson said those devices are less necessary because students are very willing to share their personal devices.

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