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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: It's a Mobile World: But Is It a Mobile World at School?

By Victor Rivero - Posted Sep 3, 2013
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The vast majority of children at all grade levels—preschool (pre-K) through 12th grade—have access to an array of technology at home, including mobile devices. Among nearly 2,400 parents answering a Grunwald Associates, LLC survey for their more than 4,100 children ages 3–18, 78% own a portable computer (someone in the family), and 52% of children use it; 36% own and 27% use an iPod touch; 24% and 11%, respectively, own and use an e-reader; 77% and 43% own and use a smartphone; and 46% and 34% own and use a tablet. Mobile devices are making their way to school, as well. By high school, half of all students (51%) carry a smartphone to school with them every day.

Yes, it’s a mobile world—with one big catch: It’s not quite a mobile school. Few schools allow students to use family-owned mobile devices in the classroom. The percentage of parents who say their child’s school requires the use of mobile or portable devices in the classroom is only 17%. Yet parents are reporting the positive value of mobile apps and content—and parents of younger children are even more enthusiastic.

Among the many learning benefits (promoting curiosity, teaching reading and math, and fostering creativity) where schools require mobile or portable devices, parents are even more positive about the learning and educational potential, according to “Living and Learning With Mobile Devices: What Parents Think About Mobile Devices for Early Childhood and K–12 Learning,” a report conducted by Grunwald Associates in collaboration with the Learning First Alliance and with support from AT&T.

The picture painted by these and other statistics and trend reports is increasingly clear: Students are living and learning with mobile and portable devices at home and in their lives, more than half even carrying those devices to school—but when they arrive at their daily destination, it’s “keep your seatbelts buckled and please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely parked at the gate.”

Nonetheless, for those schools and school districts willing to help students really take off, the opportunities for leadership and real learning are as wide as the ever-moving horizon. There is good news: 89% of parents want their child in a class where mobile devices are used, according to “2013 Trends in Online Learning Virtual, Blended and Flipped Classrooms,” a report of Speak Up survey data from Project Tomorrow.

There’s more good news: As slow as it may seem, mobile tech adoption in K–12 schools is actually on the rise, according to a national report conducted by Interactive Educational Systems Design and STEM Market Impact, LLC. Based on 558 district leader responses, nearly 60% of respondents say mobile technologies have been adopted in a quarter or more of the schools in their districts while in the next year or two, 15% say their school districts were “very likely” to adopt mobile technologies.

Educators see great potential with mobile technologies in transforming education. What do they expect? That such technologies will engage students (62%) and that they’ll help in personalizing instruction for them.

The barriers are costs, device management, and infrastructure issues—not to mention professional development and implementation support.

There are solutions, of course. A number of companies, platforms, app makers, and toolmakers have dedicated themselves to creating a most comfortable mobile experience. Here we provide a rough map to an ever-shifting mobile world. Happy travels!

Cool Street. From Promethean, this multidevice app (most new launches are, these days) demonstrates how a connected learning environment can be created in a mixed digital device classroom. Teachers can use mobile devices as well as ActivBoards and ActivTables and laptops to complete a simulation reinforcing basic economic principals through a real-world exercise of running a business with goals, simulated market share, and earnings. Students own pizza shops and compete for business. Financial statements, growth charts, and operational statistics all have a role. A Windows 8 Store app, Cool Street can be downloaded for free on the Windows Store by searching “Cool Street.”

StraightAce Learning. This digital learning system developed by Benesse America is specifically for middle school students. It focuses on math and English concepts. It’s an interactive, multiplatform tool fully aligned with Common Core standards and aims to prepare students for high school and beyond and is available on any web-connected device—smartphone, tablet, laptop, and so on. Teachers can incorporate it into classroom activities or use it as a homework management tool. It’s cloud-based and offers a seamless mobile learning experience between devices. Sign up for a 3-month trial at

Edmentum Sensei. A great name for a great platform, Edmentum Sensei delivers a real-time picture of student progress by managing performance data, charts, graphs, and other visuals. You can track student engagement, subject mastery, and recent activity; Edmentum Sensei is optimized for laptops and mobile devices for “anytime, anywhere” use. In addition to automated data collecting and student-progress monitoring, teachers can use it to communicate with students and use it to answer questions, comment on their work, or help them through problems. Teachers can also deliver assignments or assign work to individuals in subject areas they may be struggling with.

Destiny 11.0. From Follett Software Co., this solution has been greatly improved for use with ebooks and mobile devices, including a Destiny Quest mobile app for the Kindle Fire. This is a library efficiency tool, and with its support of mobile technologies, things just got a lot more efficient. It currently supports users of Apple and Android devices. With it comes a new dashboard for Destiny Library Manager library management software, providing quick access to view circulation statistics, overdue notices, and hold requests in one easy-to-view, user-friendly graphical representation.

myON reader mobile. This literacy solution personalizes reading, offers breathtaking content and assessments, and does so across multiple delivery methods. myON reader mobile offers students a way to choose what books they wish to read anytime, anywhere, from one of the largest collections of thousands of enhanced digital books. If literacy is a key component of student achievement, then myON reader mobile is even more vital than ever. Available on iPads, Android tablets, and other mobile devices, students can download up to 20 books for an offline reading experience as well.

Amplify Tablet. Here’s an all-in-one solution for your 1:1 initiative from a company associated with some interesting folks (Joel Klein, among others). Amplify has aimed to develop “the most innovative and complete tablet-based solution available for K–12 education.” Amplify has designed a digital experience especially for teaching and learning and bundled high-quality services and support. The solution attempts to make it easy and affordable for districts to start or scale a 1:1 initiative; the tablet comes preloaded with virtually everything a student might encounter during the school day, including textbooks, lessons, tests, and ebooks. The devices are out-of-the-box ready, and managing them has been developed with the educator in mind: Teachers can monitor students’ behavior, administrators can deploy content across an entire grade-level, and districts can evaluate schools with custom standardized tests.

AirWatch Mobile Device Management. Speaking of managing devices, this system from AirWatch is a great way to control devices and even content and applications on those devices. A school district’s IT department members can more easily ensure that each student is using the technology appropriately. They can monitor and track all devices in the area, allow mobile access to school documents and approved content, and protect a school’s investments. While it seems a bit unreal—a small team can do all this—even a single person. Yep, the headache of implementing mobile technologies is already starting to go away.

Yes, the world is going mobile, and, eventually, schools will too. My prediction is that in a few years, not only will mobile technologies in education proliferate through the roof, but “mobile” will begin to take on the feel of a very strange word indeed, much like the word “cellular”—it will just be so commonplace that people will forget about it, as their attention won’t be on how they’re getting there—but where they’re going.

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