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Mobile Technology in K-12 Classrooms: More Than a Question of Cost

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Tablets have become a learning fixture in many K-12 classrooms. The quick access to information and capability to provide personalized learning are just a few of the reasons why teachers, administrators and parents have been behind the push for one-to-one tablet programs in classrooms throughout the country. While few schools have met the one-to-one goal yet, nearly 60 percent of administrators say they have implemented some form of mobile technology in classrooms.

The push reflects a global trend; Gartner research indicates that tablet sales are expected to surpass desktop and laptop sales by 2015. Children have access to tablets and smartphones outside school grounds, making the technology in the classroom an easy adaptation. The difference, of course, is that instead of playing the latest version of Angry Birds or Candy Crush, students on tablets in the classroom can tap into the latest reading, math or history app. Administrators and teachers are also interested in the potential for digital textbooks (imagine a student with no back pain) and life skills tools, like calendars, to-do lists and other time management applications.

Looking at surveys, it appears that the only reason administrators have NOT implemented the one-to-one tablet initiative is financial. The cost of the tablets themselves, along with maintenance costs, higher bandwidth and security features, and more manpower in school IT departments, are certainly obstacles. If money were no issue, though, it seems that most school districts would adapt this cultural push toward tablets as student rights.

But is money really the only sticking point when it comes to mobile technology in the classroom? Are teachers and administrators, along with parents and kids, just caught up in a commercial trend fueled by the companies that design and build tablets and smartphones? By the time classrooms reach a one-to-one point, will it be time already to upgrade to something else?

In a post titled "5 Problems with iPads in Education" digital CEO Mike Silagadze says that getting iPads, or other mobile devices, into classrooms is just the first step. What many school districts fail to consider when budgeting for the initial purchase is the cost of software, not to mention the teacher training that will be needed to make those devices effective. He points out that the current push for tablets in K-12 classrooms echoes the sentiments once reserved for in-class computers. In many cases, the learning promises associated with those computers did not come to fruition, he says, leaving behind a wake of technology-jaded educators. He says:

"We need to be careful to introduce technology in thoughtful ways or else we will be left with another generation of teachers who see technology as nothing but overpriced distractions rather than useful teaching tools."

He raises a good point though. Can the potential of mobile technology in classrooms really ever live up to the hype surrounding it? Sure, the convenience and ability for student self-direction are benefits but these can also send the wrong message to the next generation. Learning does not always have to have a "fun" portion attached. Sometimes it is just challenging but the payoff is greater. Students that learn to read electronically and to find books at the touch of a button will never know the joy of tracking down a library book, via Dewey Decimal System. The instant gratification tablets in education provide make accessing knowledge easier - but does that make it better?

As more schools get closer to reaching one-to-one tablet goals, more than just budget constraints need to be addressed. Questions of work ethics and the value of traditional, non-digital learning methods need to be asked too.

How will the tablet-using K-12 students of today fare over a lifetime?