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Tablets in Higher Ed, Part 1: Pushing Past Social Use

  • January 20, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

College is hectic – students are busy juggling demanding class loads, inserting themselves into student life, working, and trying to bolster their resumes as they define their futures. With so much on their plates, the ability to be mobile – and flexible – is important, making the use of tablets and phones seem particularly appealing. Right now, tablets do play a role on campuses. Many might concur that for uses such as Netflix or streaming content, mobile devices have taken the place of traditional television sets during time spent in dorm rooms.

However, despite new technology’s acceptance outside of classroom walls, actual classrooms seem stuck in their traditional ways. According to an EDUCAUSE report, “ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014,” widespread adoption of smartphones (86 percent) and tablets (47 percent) by college students does not necessarily translate to educational use. The same report found that only 30 percent of instructors incorporate mobile technology into assignments, and 55 percent ban or discourage classroom use of mobile devices. Another survey, conducted by Box, revealed that just 50 percent of students reported that they do schoolwork daily from their smartphones or tablets, which seems small in comparison to those who have adopted the technology overall. The “Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2015” found additional evidence that the mobile possibilities are yet untapped:

“College students’ interest in using tablets for school work continues to grow. However, they continue to have somewhat mixed feelings when it comes to the future use of mobile devices in the classroom. The vast majority of college students agree that tablets will transform the way college students learn in the future (83 percent). College students are more likely this year than last to feel that tablets make learning more fun (79 percent) and help students perform better in class (68 percent). Both of these measures are up significantly from last year (74 percent and 62 percent, respectively). When asked about their future use of mobile devices in class, two in five (40 percent) students would like to use mobile technologies more often than they do now.”

In order for widespread classroom adoption of mobile devices to occur, the perceived value will need to be more significant. Right now, professors and students are limited by ineffective digital materials. The versions of textbooks made for mobile devices are basically just on-screen versions of traditional textbooks. This means that if students are using a digital textbook, they are sacrificing the benefits of pen and paper, and not gaining anything in return. The technology is there for digital textbooks to be a richer experience – but if it is never applied, what difference can it make? Professors can be the difference between students who use technology to their advantage and those who don’t. The “Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2015” supports this:

“Effective use of mobile technology is less about tools and more about students’ digital literacy skills, including the ability to access, manage, and evaluate digital resources. Students might take plenty of pictures using their mobile phone cameras, but rarely do they use the device for meaningful learning experiences. So, even though students recognize mobile devices’ value for academic work, they still look to institutions and instructors for opportunities and encouragement to use them that way.”

As tablets and mobile devices continue to become more prevalent in higher education experiences, content will be key. Will we eventually arrive at a sort of digital content nirvana where students are inclined to read on mobile devices, or will this never materialize? Time will tell. As children continue to experience earlier and earlier introductions to technology, digital tools will begin to hold value outside of social settings. As educators work through these changes, they will need to push past the obvious. Digital tools should not be integrated into lesson plans or homework assignments just because they exist, and we want to use them – they should be a part of enhancing learning initiatives. No matter what the trends are, learning needs to come first, buoyed by the appropriate tools.

Reference Articles:

1. “Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study” EDUCAUSE. June 22 2015.
2. “Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2015” Pearson. June 2015.
3. “Why tablets are failing miserably in higher education” Betanews. May 18 2014.
4. “Does Amazon’s Edtech Strategy Involve $50 Tablets?” EdSurge. September 9 2015.
5. “4 Reasons Windows 10 Makes Sense for Education” EdTech. July 31 2015.
6. “Online Shoppers Prefer to Use Their Phones” U.S. News. November 25 2015.
7. “ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014” Educause Center for Analysis and Research. 2014.