How schools are using mobile technology for the next wave of learning

How schools are using mobile technology

The mobile revolution has already changed the way many of us work, play and communicate but smartphones, apps and mobile technology also have the ability to make a strong impact on all levels of education. We’re definitely just at the tip of the iceberg and there are real challenges but mobile tech can soon be a valuable tool for educators and students.

Every once in a while, you’ll hear about a school giving its students free iPads or iPhones to assist in the learning process and these seem like cute stories. I honestly don’t know if having an iPad in a kindergartners’ hands assists in learning but I definitely see the value in giving a medical student an iPhone or some other type of smartphone.

In order to understand the impact smartphones and apps can have on students, it’s important to understand how students actually use these devices. Sprint is teaming with Notre Dame University for a comprehensive three-year study on the mobile habits of college students. Sprint will be providing 200 students with free smartphones (probably the Epic 4G) and two years of service in an attempt to try and understand how students use these devices.

How schools are using mobile technology for the next wave of learning

Photo credit: bjmcdonald via Flickr

The goal, said Sprint’s Candace Johnson, is to better understand the social networking habits, app usage and location data from these users to better tailor content for this demographic. Things move so quickly nowadays that an incoming freshman class may use their devices in different ways than those enrolled just a few years ago. There are financial goals of course – Sprint will be sponsoring Notre Dame athletics – but this could also help the university to figure out what roles apps and smartphones could play in course formation.

Hardware and services are important but the software and content

“Apps have a significant potential for learning, we haven’t even scratched the surface,” said Angelo Biasi, founder of SMART Marketing Solutions and professor at New York University.

Biasi said mLearning could be crucial in corporate learning settings but the value for educational institutions can’t be understated. Just imagine an app which includes supplemental teaching materials and quizzes that a student can use while on a train or bus home. Instead of using those idle minutes playing Angry Birds or just playing around on Facebook, a student could get in a few minutes of additional learning. The notification capability also makes it easier to notify students if a class has been canceled or moved.

Biasi is putting this theory to practice, as NYU has teamed with GetJar to release an app for his mobile marketing class for small and medium-sized businesses. The coursework will be delivered via the web and through a cross-platform mobile app that was developed by Didmo and distributed by GetJar. The program will include course material, will enable Biasi to quiz students and it has even attracted interest from many people around the world, thanks to the reach of GetJar.

How schools are using mobile technology

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

It’s easier to focus on colleges, as cell phone and smartphone usage is generally higher but there is value in bringing this down to lower levels of education like high school and maybe even grade school. We’re just seeing baby steps in using mobile technology in education but even the most bullish mobile app fans won’t say there aren’t challenges. Much like online learning was met with hesitation ten years ago, it can be tough to convince some school boards that mobile initiatives provide demonstrated value to students. It’s also difficult to try and reach students who have multiple phones running different operating systems or those without a smartphone.

Patrick Mork, chief marketing officer at GetJar and soon to be at Google, said that not all classes may be perfect for mobile phones. For instance, a class where you practice art may be difficult to achieve on a small screen while literature or math classes might work better on a phone.

“Kids are going to be playing around with these phones anyways, so there’s a lot of opportunity to leverage that device and make sure that the learning material is engaging,” said Mork.

There’s also the very real problem of socio-economic disparities, as upper-crust universities may be able to afford giving students phones or creating apps but it’s difficult seeing schools with less resources being able to do that. Smartphone bills can cost more than $80 a month and that is far more than many parents can pay for their kids, especially if the educational increase is just marginal at this point. Multi-platform mobile content creation tools like Didmo can help to overcome some of that but there is still going to be a disparity.

No one is saying that mobile technology is going to be the panacea for education in the United States, as there are a multitude of issues which need to be addressed to enable the country to better prepare its students for the world. Overlooking the role mobile technology can play in the educational process will only create more problems.

[Photo credits: bjmcdonald, Ed Yourdon]

  • tracy

    These types of studies to attempt to try and understand how students use these devices is very important. The future is now and this is the way all students (young and old) will be learning. 

  • i say the idea behind using apps in school is fantastic, but it does limit it to those that can afford it. maybe something like a wifi device like a cheap tablet that you could load  your assignments in at school and you will have at home. idk.. no matter how you look at it, having smartphones and tablets in schools is just starting. will be interesting to see how it plays out in the future.

  • Cheryl W.

    I have a child that is falling behind in school. She has a focus problem. This year her school has a brand new technology center with iPads, iPods, PC, Tablets and such. I can’t tell you how the use of these new devices have captured her attention (no small feat there) and held it long enough to teach her things no human has succeeded to do.

  • I feel like you could incorporate mobile devices into a curriculum, but not completely replace traditional education methods. I mean everyones different though.

  • Anonymous

    I think that incorporating mobile devices into school, could actually be very helpful. It could keep students more organized and have one place for everything they need. As long as the devices are used at certain times for example not during tests, they could be a very nice thing to have. I also think that it should not be incorporated with grade school because they are more likely to be distracted by the device.

  • Anonymous

    I think Patrick Mork said it best: “Kids are going to be playing around with these phones anyways, so
    there’s a lot of opportunity to leverage that device and make sure that
    the learning material is engaging.” As more kids gain access to smartphones, tablets, etc.. the opportunity to learn becomes greater. 

  • Anonymous

    I think Patrick Mork said it best: “Kids are going to be playing around with these phones anyways, so
    there’s a lot of opportunity to leverage that device and make sure that
    the learning material is engaging.” As more kids gain access to smartphones, tablets, etc.. the opportunity to learn becomes greater. 

  • Edwin

    I honestly believe that technology makes a big difference in Education, too bad education doesn’t really utilize to its full potential. Schools should spend some type of money in technology to make life easier on students

  • Edwin

    I honestly believe that technology makes a big difference in Education, too bad education doesn’t really utilize to its full potential. Schools should spend some type of money in technology to make life easier on students

  • George

    I think that apps, or combination of apps are where the real success will lie. I’m trying to get our school of nursing to work on ideas of using tablets to assist the education of their students with apps that assist their learning, provide access to materials, and allow them JIT access to materials for clinicals as well.

  • Anonymous

    I cannot wait until smart phones are very affordable for everyone. Then schools will be able to integrate them into the system more easily. 

  • Zain Muzammil

    Mobile technology has a lot of potential specially in Universities and Schools. Portable, sleek and performance that can condones one attention. Ipads are the most commonly used form of mobile technology. But from where i see cell phones with exquisite display screen and sizes like the samsung galaxy s 2 can replace the tabs. I use my cell phone to browse pdf notes even powerpoint slides thanks the office available at the android market. You have the world in your pocket to be more precise. Texting, emailing, browsing, researching, note taking and even more can all be done with one mechanical device now. You have your calculators which save you a decent amount money available from the android market. So its just not notes but also mathematical operations that can be conducted all from one machine which weighs hardly hundred grams or so and is always with you in your pocket.   

  • Mihir

    it sounds like a good idea, especially for iPad and other tablet devices.  however, would you really want to stare at a tiny mobile phone screen and try to read something?

  • They’re not. My school takes away cell phones that are seen and it costs money to get it back. Tablets are iffy and I get away with carrying a laptop into class.

  • Anonymous

    I think technology or mobile tech. can & probably should have a big role going forward. Saving tons of paper by replacing books, more teaching options (i like the teaching aids idea in the article), being able to interact/more easily communicate with students and teachers and the app avenue is nearly unlimited.

  • Jennifer Evancho

    I think that technology plays a key role in the improvement of education.  Having apps that can assist with the education process instead of having to spend time sifting through web pages.  I know that my mobile blackboard app has become a life saver for posting classwork and emailing my teacher.

  • I for one am not a fan of mobile technology in the classroom.  I witnessed firsthand as my daughter graduated high school very rarely picking up the phone to communicate – even when it was in her hand.  This generation would rather text a friend than call and post a facebook posting rather than gather as a group.  There’s a time for using mobile technology, but I don’t think it’s in the classroom.

  • Anonymous

    technology is becoming a vital part of the learning process, students can use educational apps to learn on the go, they ca use communication apps to share what they have learned with other students, even mobile social networking can help parents and tutors see what is their child’s interest in life and weak spots that can be reinforced by watching their timeline as it gets full of mobile uploads and status 

  • The best design for cross platform tools would probably utilize HTML5.  You could leverage mobile tech without requiring it.

  • This really seems like a ploy to learn how to sell smart phones to kids although I do agree that given these devices are the future that children could benefit from learning how to use them earlier in life

  • Mmccarth

    With all the budget issues of schools, I find it difficult to believe they could develop curriculum for these type of applications.

  • I work in a university and were seeing this with all of our students. The students are almost required to have laptops and mobile devices just to get there homework.

  • I enjoyed this article, I have thought about the potential for mobile devices as an additional tool for higher education like college but hadn’t really every though about the potential for situations like middle school or high school.

  • totally digging my CM7 nook color for school ebooks and a wireless keyboard so much smaller and more compact/convenient than a laptop

  • Schools are letting students use their own laptops while in school and some schools are even letting ipads, and android tablets to be used in the classroom

  • Anonymous

    E-books and tablets are great alternatives to textbooks.

  • Anonymous

    At the university where I work, mobile is everywhere – professors are using phones for homework assignments.  They send a student to a specific venue like a theatre and the student has to take a photo of the event (play, musical, etc) and geo-tag themselves at that location.  Then the student submits that back to the professor for the grade. 

  • Preston Kiser

    Mobile technology is increasing the reach and influence of teachers and classwork. Assignments, materials, and other relevant information can be more easily distributed and assigned, and students are able to access a wealth of knowledge via mobile devices.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. We are at the tip of the iceberg.  There will be plenty of experimentation before we discover the most effective ways to extend teaching and learning beyond the classroom

  • There are a lot of apps that are very educational.  I’m glad to see schools use mobile technology.  My daughter’s school is just starting to use it.

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  • Janel Myers

    I completely agree that if we overlook the role mobile technology can play in the educational process will only create more problems.  However, it needs to be closely monitered in the schools.  Entertainment comes before education with most kids.

  • there are some really useful apps that could enhance and make learning more fun for students. I’ve liked everyone and tweeted! @buttmuffin   thanks for the great contest..!!

  • Oracle96

    Great article! But it shows such a disparity between rich and poor countries.

  • skary

    Until a school can somehow block sites like facebook that serve only to distract, phones should not be allowed in classrooms at all imho.

  • Stefaniex143

    I defintely believe we should use technology to our advantage in schools today. So many things are much easier accessed. It can also help reduce paper usage since everyone is into going green these days! I think this is a great article!

  • Anonymous

    While I agree that mobile learning may have a place at some point in the future, we’re definitely not at that point yet.  A student learning from an app on a phone or a tablet would have to be very self motivated – and most students would likely just use the time to browse Facebook or play Angry Birds.  That said, I’m sure there can be some method of incorporating learning into mobile devices in the future – likely through the use of filters, etc.  

  • Anonymous

    Very Interesting article, I definitely agree that mobile technology does and will play a big part of education. It also helps reduce paper usage and just helps make life easier! 

  • I have to agree with previous comments that unless you block all the social networking sites and other pages so they ONLY have access to the educational apps and whatnot then it will never work.

  • Estein888

    Mobile learning could be useful as a tool to supplement normal classroom learning, but not to completely replace it.  Kids need to develop social and interactive skills as well.

  • Children’s brains are not yet fully developed.  They don’t have the ability to determine what needs to be done to succeed.  Unless there is constant teacher/parent/adult supervision, a child will not be able to utilize mobile technology effectively.  Interesting article and yes, I can see mobile techology’s uses, but constant monitoring would be required.  How many adults in most children’s lives would be willing to take on yet another task?

  • I think mobile learning is a great tool and asset but not a replacement for children. Technology is taking us to new places and schools need to keep up with the times and use technology as a resource in teaching.

  • There are so many great, educational apps out there for children.  Let’s see them put to good use!

  • Jessica Leung

    There’s too many distractions to use mobile technology to teach effectively.

  • Iv_852002

    I agree to some extent that mobile technology can be distracting, but it’s also a great asset to have, at your fingertips and with an array of options and educational tools to choose from. I am all for encouraging the use of technology not ONLY to play Angry Birds, but to learn and communicate with and about the world around us.

  • Until prices come down, socioeconomic factors will make the use of smart phones in the classroom more of a liability than an asset.  I would rather the school systems focus on the basics before they start investing in mobile tech.

  • Mobile technology used in
    the educational environment can be very beneficial, on the surface. For
    majority of students, the technology can actually be a distraction. The
    majority of high school and college level students use this techno…logy
    for mindless activities like following reality stars and tweet about
    their mundane lives. Just look at most Facebook & Twitter pages.
    For the more motivated & aspiring students, mobile technology can
    really have a positive impact on their learning experience.

  • In my school, student is not allowed to use cell phone in class. We have laptop. Mostly we use our laptops for science classroom. I don’t see any use for iPad. iPad is too expensive for most student. I have seen some college students use smart phone cheating on their math tests. I wish my college could give Microsoft Office free for student.

  • I don’t see why you should start off young kids in school classrooms with mobile devices any earlier than they already start. Inevitably they’ll end up using it to play around rather than study. I think they should focus on getting the basics of education right first and then when kids progress to the higher grades/years they can be taught using aids such as tablets and touchscreen devices, because by then they know what the responsible use of technology is.

  • I like the idea of coursework being delivered via apps and other technology for students, especially when it comes to those in university and even more for the returning student who perhaps has a job and or family that would make traditional classroom attendance and participation more difficult. However, I believe that technology should be introduced in the classroom slowly, as pre-school, and elementary students literally have brains that are still forming and there is a social interaction element that cannot be overlooked, even if the technology promises are very alluring.

  • baaz suuf

    last paragraph should read “there is a multitude of issues” — not “there are a multitude of issues”.  there is only one multitude. 

  • Katie R

    Change may be coming, but I don’t expect too much too soon. What is wrong with using books/workbooks/projectors. They worked fine for me when I was in school.

  • seems like most schools are using some form of ipad or laptop nowadays.  this seems like an expensive thing for parents to get involved with.   what happened to the days of a new pair of shoes.

  • I think this is the age of mobile technology and I find that kids are way smarter because of  all the tools they have now. The smartphones and other gadgets gives them the ability to learn new things and help them in school anywhere they are.

  • Heidi Waterfield

    We hear regularly from school administrators looking for ways to bet protect the iPads they use for the latest new “program.” My daughter’s middle school in SF also got a grant to use iPads in math last year and is expanding to one additional class this year. Because technology is an integral part of any working person’s life at this point, I think it’s imperative that our schools be teaching kids to use up-do-date technology and use it regularly. ~Heidi

  • I agree that smartphones and tablet can be used as educational tools but I wonder how effective they will be when there’s so much opportunity to check email, send texts, play games. These distractions are just a screen touch away and without anyone supervising, no one would know whether the student is using it to learn or for fun.

    Kinda reminds me of high school, back when people hacked their TI calculators to play games in class.

  • Mobile technology can be distracting when students are playing games, looking at social media sites etc when they are really supposed to be focusing on what the teacher is teaching. Like the others said, start with the basics: textbooks, paper, and pens.

  • Mobile technology can be distracting when students are playing games, looking at social media sites etc when they are really supposed to be focusing on what the teacher is teaching. Like the others said, start with the basics: textbooks, paper, and pens.

  • Implementing technology into schools has always been challenged. Today kids learn better search habits and retain less information. Apps are supporting generating answers without teaching the fundamentals behind the solution. Management of the apps is going to be the issue over the next few years. Text books will slowly disappear and eReaders with interactive features will be the tool that kids use.

  • Michelle H.

    My daughter just started high school and we were able to “opt in” so she can get text messages on her phone about class assignments and school cancellations, etc.  I think it’s a great idea and I can only see how a smart phone would enhance her school experience…calculators, dictionary and thesaurus apps, the latest news articles for current events classes. I was holding off on getting her a smart phone, but I can see where it would really benefit her. I think as long as the school monitors use for learning only and not “social time”, it would benefit students in the long run.

  • CJ E.

    With today’s mobile age, technology may soon be adapted in schools. Still, learning the fundamental way should not be overlooked and there should be a boundary. Devices should be used responsibly or else they could become distractions. I believe it could work for schools if it is planned and implemented carefully.

  • Alan T.

    Thank you for writing this article.  Most student fees help cover the cost of “free” electronic devices like mobile phones and computers.  I applaud school that embrace technology to further educate their students.  However, I agree with you when it comes to cost.  Students from financially well-off families never give a second thought about the cost associated with tech gadgets like monthly payments, which gives them an advantage, in that they can concentrate on their studies.  This isn’t the case about students who aren’t as lucky.

  • Anonymous

    I can see the pros of having a mobile device in the classroom , but also the cons like cheating

  • Tara

    I think I see more cons then benefits to having a mobile device in the classroom including cheating, playing games instead of paying attention, etc…

  • Gamalielt

    Evernote is very useful recommend it to all college students.

  • Gamalielt

    Evernote is very useful recommend it to all college students.

  • who teaches the teachers about this?

  • Siam70

    kids bring their phones into schools anyway and text and email people all the time. i say bring on the revoloution. we can never stop kids from bringing phones into schools so why not embrace it and make it fun.

  • Very good Post. I

  • That would really be interesting if all of the students were able to use mobiles in learning but some students use this for cheating during exams. It may look unreliable but it still a big help if this will be used correctly and in a good way.

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