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What Are Mobile Devices Teaching Your Kids?

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62 percent of responding parents report that if their child's school allowed devices to be used for educational purposes, they would likely purchase a mobile device for their child.

90 percent of the Mobile Learning Explorer administrators state that mobile computers increase students' potential for success, as compared to 59 percent of the non-Mobile Learning Explorer administrators.

Source: Speak Up survey quoted in "Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile!"

The evening news screams scary headlines ("Pedophilia!" "Sexting! "Cyber-bullying!") that make it seem as if mobile devices in the hands of children are more dangerous than handguns. As a parent myself, I obviously agree that every parent needs to safeguard their child's mobile computing experience. However, mobile devices can be the key to learning and, dare I even say it... success.

The question is not if your child should use a mobile device in school, but how to do it safely. As mobile devices like iOS devices (like the iPod, iPhone, iPad etc.); Android, the Barnes & Noble Nook, a variety of tablets and cell phones, or other platforms such as Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, Nokia etc., make their way into classrooms, students, parents, teachers and administrators need to implement best practices that increase learning without compromising safety.

In the United States, many schools are seeing six-year-olds with cell phones. The average UK kid gets their first cell phone at eight. Children's access to mobile devices is staggering, as you can see from the "Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile!" survey. For instance, among middle school (6th-8th grade) students:
  • 59 percent have a cell phone
  • 24 percent have an Internet-enabled Smartphone
  • 53 percent have a personal laptop or tablet

A generation of students is growing up with a different level of access to information at their collective fingertips.

Mobile learning 101: Mobile learning, aka mlearning, is one of education's fastest growing trends (starting in kindergarten and going all the way through university, as well as professional learning environments). Properly used, these devices are effective educational tools.

Benefits of mobile learning include:

Individualized instructions and learning: With automatic personalization, all learning styles are engaged so there is no "one size fits all" program. Most programs adapt to the individual learner's strengths, allowing the learner to work through their weak spots in the privacy of their handheld. If a student has problems grasping a concept, they can do additional work on their device whenever they choose.

Learning is seen as fun: Subjects like algebra are more palatable when placed in a game format and students can relate the relevancy of real world experiences.

Collaborative and interactive: Mobile learning tends to increase communication between peers and instructors. Young people communicate differently based on today's technology. Teaching on their terms helps this information sink in faster.

Discipline issues nearly vanish: Discipline issues went down by 90 percent after the Rowan-Salisbury School Systems implemented a mobile learning project, according to Phil Hardin, executive director of technology. This is because students were more engaged on learning activities on the school bus and had less time to play pranks or bother other students.

Class attendance and participation: There is no need to cancel class due to bad weather, or fall behind as a result of extended absences if mobile devices are set up with online content filtering technology to protect the content they view when they are not in the classroom. Students can attend class and submit homework from any location with devices that have a two-camera system that allows collaboration and participation. This has particular relevance for disadvantaged and special needs students.

Saves schools money: Cash strapped school districts are also attracted to mobile learning technology as a way to save money over the long term. The iSchool Initiative estimates each $150 iPod touch would save at least $600 per student per year.

Inexpensive lessons and materials: Ebooks for ereaders and other online educational tools like mobile apps are less expensive to produce than traditional textbooks and will save money. Some online materials, such as OpenTextbook, are free. Amazon recently introduced a new ad-supported e-ink Kindle at a reduced rate (less than half of a comparable tablet). Whether schools will allow ad-supported technology in the classroom remains to be seen. Ebooks shouldn't be seen as a separate device like an ereader, but as a free application that exists on almost every platform. The ebook learning experience can be enjoyed anywhere for free. Today, a student can read a free textbook on her school PC, continue reading on her BlackBerry smartphone during the bus ride home and then open the reading app on her iPad to the exact point where she stopped reading on her phone. Any notes she made on any platform would be saved automatically. This content and extra portability cost the student and the school nothing.

Given these pluses, instead of confiscating handhelds, today's teachers want more of them in the classroom. According to a great report (PDF) -- "The New 3 Es of Education: Enabled, Engaged, Empowered: How Today's Educators are Advancing a New Vision for Teaching and Learning,"

Teachers highly value the ability of the devices to increase student engagement in learning (77 percent), to facilitate improved communications between teachers, parents and students (64 percent) and to access online textbooks anytime, anywhere (64 percent). Administrators note the same benefits but with stronger validation of the student engagement component (84 percent) and adding in the idea that the devices can extend learning beyond the school day (66 percent) or create opportunities for more personalized learning experiences (64 percent).

When mobile devices are introduced, studies show that students become more excited about learning and teachers become more enthusiastic about teaching. The benefits are showing in higher test scores, decreases in disciplinary actions and increases in attendance. Some school programs are beginning to require an iPod touch. (A few schools will even standardize over to the iPod touch's big brother, the larger and more expensive iPad.)

But don't think mlearning is an expensive way of throwing new money at an old problem. In the developing world, mlearning is seen as the best and cheapest approach to leapfrogging into the 21st century. Mlearning has the benefit of a cheap display technology that the student probably already has. (The majority of the world accesses the Internet through a mobile device instead of a desktop PC.) Most of the infrastructure isn't in the school but in the cloud, which means that an mlearning program's back office hardware costs are negligible.

What Parents and Educators Can Do to Support Mobile Learning

Mobile learning must enjoy the same investment in time from parents and teachers that other classroom activities do. Technology does not run itself, it needs management. Collaboration is key for all aspects of mobile learning, including child safety, content filtering and safeguarding against the Internet's unsavory elements. Adults need continuing education. Events like the Global Education Conference help support mobile learning from a place of knowledge and understanding.

Last November, the first Global Education Conference was held entirely online (which seems appropriate!). It operated as a platform for discussion on mobile learning practices and showed how technology can enable learning anywhere and everywhere. Engaging presenters ranged from seasoned educators to technology experts. "Mobile Learning Using the iPod touch -- In Hindsight" was a unique discussion that I moderated. As a mobile Internet safety expert, parent and CEO and co-founder of Mobicip, a leading online child safety service for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, PCs, laptops and netbooks, I love being part of the mobile education conversation. This informative discussion joined educators with educational technology experts to discuss ways in which learning can be encouraged in the mobile age. Also covered were acceptable use policies, security and deployment management, as well as anecdotal student benefits. Panelists discussed how these programs evolved from concept to reality and how Mobicip's content filtering service helped reach and exceed goals. You can click here to listen to the recorded session.

The Future

The future of mobile learning means moving into a more virtual educational environment.

More government dollars will be granted for pilot projects such as Learning On-The-Go 2011 Wireless Pilot Projects (partially funded by the FCC). Corporate and business expenditures for mobile learning products and services in the U.S. alone are expected to reach over $246.9 million in 2011. As mobile learning continues to grow, school districts will see more regulation, oversight and safety mandates that, if not met, could result in restricted funding. Clear child Internet safety guidelines will need to be established and safe browser technology implemented to make sure investments in education continue to flow.

Clearly, more money needs to be spent on research and development of mobile technology as statistics report glowing successes in current school programs. An ongoing open dialogue with all parties including educators, technology experts, parents, business leaders and politicians must recognize the importance of mobile learning and support it.

Whatever modality is used for teaching, whether a book or a touch screen, the principles and discipline of learning remain the same -- parents and teachers stand at the podium of a child's education. Mobile learning blends traditional pedagogy with technology to reach every child. Implementing proper web filtering tools will put them on the fast track to success.

If you want to start your own Mlearning program, check out these resources:

To get the latest examples of mobile learning best practices, click here.

Tony Vincent's fantastic website, Learning in Hand, is an educator's resources for mobile learning. It was started in 2002 as part of Tony Vincent's classroom website. At first focusing on Palm handhelds, Learning in Hand now covers podcasting, iPods, iPod touch, iPhone, iPad and netbooks. He takes his 15 years of teaching experience and shows educators (and parents) how to use handhelds to educate with easy to follow examples.

"Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile!" by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow.

The Consortium for School Networking has a very well thought out mlearning guideline in their Acceptable Use Policies in Web 2.0 & Mobile Era.

Mobile Learning Conference 2011.

Learning2Go: Great approach for teachers on how to finance and implement an mlearning program.

UpsideLearning.com has produced a great slide show on mobile learning.

To see how such a program would work, check out ProjectKnect which helped North Carolina's at risk students learn math and more via their mobile phones. You should also check out their instructive blog.

About the Author
Suren Ramasubbu is a mobile learning and Internet safety expert and CEO of Mobicip.com, the leading Internet safety and parental control service for mobile devices like the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Mobicip has won Parent Choice awards and is used by schools all over the country to filter out dangerous and inappropriate content. Besides Mobicip, there are a number of child-safe iPod / iPad browsers on the App Store.

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