Students say school bans on use of personal mobile devices are barrier to learning

340305918_6413d10fcc_zThe dream of many schools and districts seeking to bring more technology into the classroom is to purchase mobile devices (laptops MP3 players and/or smart phones) for all of their students so that there are fewer issues with equity, compatibility and misuse of these devices.

But, according to a large national survey of almost 300,000 K-12 students, the dream of most students is to use their own mobile devices for learning in the classroom, not share the school’s devices.’

Students no longer view their schools’ internet filters as the primary barrier to the use of technology in school, according to the Speak Up National Research Project, which annually surveys students, teachers, parents and administrators on attitudes toward the use of technology in school as well as on other topics relating to preparing students for the future. Students now view school policies banning use of their own mobile devices as the major barrier.’

“Through mobile devices and instant access to the internet, students now see the world as their classroom and they have clearly stated that using their own mobile devices anytime or anywhere to learn will help them improve their personal productivity and learning,” says one of the reports interpreting results of their most recent survey. (Learning in the 21st: Taking it Mobile!)

“Student access to mobile devices has increased dramatically. So dramatically in fact,  that many districts have begun to re-think the potential for student-owned devices within instruction.”

If their child’s school allowed devices to be used for educational purposes, the Speak Up report says most parents (62%) would be willing to purchase a mobile device for their child.  A major issue for educators who are open to allowing students to use their own devices is how to provide universal access to such devices.

Student and teacher conflict

Educators and students have been in conflict about the use of mobile devices at school, with many schools banning the use of these devices in the classroom to avoid many of the issues they raise. About 76% of teachers say they are very concerned that use of mobile devices will be a distraction to learning. However, some educators, are beginning to see things differently, the report says, particularly if they are using mobile devices themselves and seeing firsthand the benefits in increased productivity in their own work and lives.

Instead of viewing the use of mobile devices as a way of helping students become adept at using technology, some of the most innovative educators see the use of mobile devices in school as a way of creating more opportunities for students to work collaboratively, according to the report.

There is growing evidence of the use of social networking sites for instructional purposes, with 48% of high school students and 34% of middle school students now reporting that they use their profiles on Facebook and other social networking sites to collaborate with classmates on projects.

Beyond the opportunities for collaboration, administrators are beginning to appreciate that mobile devices increase opportunities for learning after school hours and increase teachers’ productivity and their comfort levels with technology.

“With 24/7 access, administrators see learning extended beyond the traditional school day, opening new avenues for remediation, acceleration, and improved school-to-home connections,” the report says.

Educator concern

One of the greatest concerns of educators about the use of mobile devices is that students will mostly use them to talk to each other and not necessarily about instruction.  However, when students were surveyed about how they could imagine using devices for learning (see table on page 4), they said they could record lectures, get reminders of homework and tests from teachers, take notes, look up information on the internet, etc.

At one middle school, science students worked in teams to collect data during science experiments with their smart phones. They used phones to enter data into GoogleDocs and send the data to the class website.
“Instantly, we see everyone’s results and discover trends in the data together. I am assessing students’ grasp of concepts in real time,” observed one 8th-grade science teacher.  ‘

The models for allowing students to use their own devices are not as far away as many educators think, the report says. For example, students bring their own calculators to school and they’re paying fees for art materials and other curriculum resources, the report says.

“Learning in the 21st: Taking it Mobile!” Project Tomorrow, 2011.

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