Tablets—with their lightweight portability and interactive touch screens—have been hailed as the next “must have” as schools move toward mobile computing. But questions linger: How much network access do students need? How can schools ensure that students will use the devices appropriately? Does more time using mobile devices translate into better academic performance?
Kajeet, a cell phone carrier that specializes in kid-friendly mobile service, announced June 25 its participation in “Making Learning Mobile,” a pilot program that assesses the mobile computing needs of students and teachers.
Every year through Wireless Reach, Qualcomm invites proposals for research-based pilot programs that study applications of wireless technology in education.
Qualcomm recognized “a lot of synergy” between ideas submitted by Common Sense Media and kajeet and suggested combining the two proposals into one project, said Qualcomm project manager Edith Saldivar.
She said this project will be the first major research study that focuses specifically on the internet privacy and security issues of one-to-one mobile computing in schools.
For the 2012-13 school year, kajeet will provide Android tablets to 120 eighth-graders in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools and 180 fifth-graders in the Chicago Public Schools.
Students will bring their devices to all their classes and take them home each day. And because kajeet provides access to the mobile broadband network, students don’t have to search out Wi-Fi hotspots—they’ll have connectivity anywhere there is cell phone service on the Sprint network.
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“This is not using technology as a supplement to traditional instruction; this is using technology as a core component of instructional delivery,” said Michael Flood, kajeet’s vice president of education markets.
The devices will use kajeet’s web-based Sentinel platform, which allows schools to regulate students’ internet access at the district, school, or classroom level. Because Sentinel controls filters within the network, web access will always align with the schools’ standards regardless of the browser used or the student’s location.
The devices also will come equipped with Digital Passport, a new online tool designed by Common Sense Media to teach internet safety to elementary school students. Using an interactive, game-based interface, the program guides students through modules that cover online safety issues such as how to create a secure password or recognize cyber bullying.
Students earn up to six badges by watching short videos that integrate online safety lessons with Common Core standards and demonstrating comprehension through gameplay.
After earning all six badges, the student receives a “digital passport,” which functions as a “stamp that allows school folks to say, ‘OK, you’ve had the proper education to use online tools in a safe and responsible way,’” said Mike Lorion, vice president and general manager of education for Common Sense Media.
As schools increasingly introduce devices into their classrooms, “it’s not just about knowing how to use [these tools], but also about how to act responsibly and to be safe around their use,” Lorion said.
Although several other one-to-one programs, such as the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, have used Common Sense digital literacy curricula, the kajeet project marks the first time students will be able to access the Digital Passport games as a mobile app.
To access the apps provided by kajeet and the school districts, students and teachers will use EduTone’s Passport and its Global Grid for Learning Content Library. EduTone’s Passport creates a single sign-on (SSO) environment, so that a user can log into all of his or her license-dependent apps using the same school ID and password.
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The SSO function “converts [devices] from consumer- to school-centric” by “enabl[ing] personalization” because after sign-on, “each device becomes populated with applications entitled to that particular user,” said Robert Iskander, CEO of Edutone.
Teachers using the kajeet devices also will be able to use Emantras’ MOBL21 platform to create mobile lessons, conduct formative assessments, and access instructional content.
Before, during, and after the pilot program, non-profit research group Project Tomorrow will evaluate and measure the program’s success. Saldivar said Qualcomm expects to release an evaluation report sharing data and findings from the program in summer 2013.
Flood, kajeet’s education VP, said kajeet “expects to learn a lot from this project,” particularly about what types of web activity students gravitate toward, when and how often students like to use their devices, and most importantly, whether mobile device use improves academic performance.
“There is no single silver bullet—we need collaboration from schools, families, and companies in the private sector,” Flood said.
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