Mobility is here, but to quote author and futurist William Gibson, it’s been “unevenly distributed.” It’s true that the world is mobile-enabled, untethered, and moving at the speed of Wi-Fi and 4G. Indeed, real-time knowledge, partnerships, and connectivity are all a click, a tap, or a swipe away.
Even so, in K-12 classrooms across the country, mobility and all it enables are not fully realized. Infrastructure, training, costs, and other hurdles hold it back. Still, there are reasons to believe education is on the verge of a leap forward.
Falling Into Place
K-12 education is nearing its mobile moment due to increased access driven by lowered costs of entry and many technological advances. Students are ready for mobility, bringing smartphones and tablets of their own to the classroom, and they are doing so at ever-younger ages each year. While these devices were initially seen as distractions and banned from entering the classroom, schools are now increasingly allowing students to use their devices during class.
Many educational apps and platforms have rolled out to assist learning on mobile devices, moving smartphones and tablets from distractions to tools. For example, voice recorders, note-taking platforms, and other apps help students save and remember lecture material. Likewise, digital textbooks and similar innovations are lightening the load—literally—for students, and also making education more seamless and measurable. Even outside of class and school hours, students and teachers are increasingly connected and productive across a host of platforms.
Staying On Track
As school districts gain experience with classroom mobility, best practices and tips are gradually being developed to assess and guide mobility in the classroom from devices to programming.
A 1:1 student-device ratio can be implemented where possible in a school district, but this may not be possible for all budgets. In such cases, a 2:1 ratio, which can develop team learning and group skills, is another enticing and more cost-effective option. Balancing policies for “Bring Your Own Device,” where students can use their own devices, with loan and checkout device programs during or after hours for those who don’t already have them, can enhance learning for everyone.
When it comes to the app and productivity ecosystems for the devices, free resources and content subscriptions can be a strategic option for some school districts. Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365 are popular options for many educational administrators to use.
Extending beyond computing devices, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and media tools such as connected projectors, monitors, and whiteboards will become more important as they roll out and add to the abilities of existing devices. Additionally, the exploding use of cloud technology will ensure rapid access anywhere to materials, notes, and software for students and faculty alike.
Along with this new paradigm of going all-in on mobility come new challenges to administrators, planners, and school boards. Outside the classroom, parents may be wary of issues like privacy and supervision that come with the increased technology in their children’s hands.
Inside the classroom, IT infrastructure in many schools will need to keep up with advances—not just with wireless service, but also high-density wireless—to handle the simultaneous loads from multiple devices. Teacher training and professional development will be needed to equip educators to adopt, adapt, and excel. It’s not just about the tools either, as curricular choices, teaching styles, and classroom sizes and shapes will need to change to adapt to this new world of mobility.
Despite these potential challenges, K-12 student learning and engagement appear to increase with mobility, which is good for everyone. A large Milwaukee-area school district’s pilot blended program, which deployed wired classrooms blending learning and other innovations, reported 185 percent growth. This means students received nearly two years of learning within one year during the first year of program implementation.
A similar study confirms the benefits of classroom mobility. A comprehensive review of 1:1 device initiatives nationwide by a NC State University researcher found evidence of improvement in learning.
Takeaway: Good progress is being made in classroom mobility, but for it to reach a uniform level across all schools, their districts, vendors, and communities will need to continue to partner on accelerating this leap forward. Education is still catching up with the rest of the world. There are challenges in technical infrastructure and paradigm change, but best practices—tailored to each individual district’s needs—can lead the way.
It’s only through broad-based commitment and investment that the classroom will fully leverage mobile. While mobile is not yet a replacement for more robust computing devices like laptops, it’s a powerful and agile complement.
1. “Discovering the Unexpected Elements of Classroom Mobility” EdTech. March 2, 2016.
2. “Managed Tablet Bundles Simplify K-12 Mobility Initiatives” EdTech. January 28, 2016.
3. “Campus Mobility 2016” EdTech Digest. January 5, 2016.
4. “Is Asean’s Education System Future-Ready?” Digital News Asia. July 31, 2015.
5. “Wired to Learn: K-12 Students in the Digital Classroom” Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance. 2014.