For years, tablets have enriched our lives at work and at home, allowing us to stay connected and access information with unprecedented ease. But they’re also playing a growing role in the classroom, upending traditional models of learning. [tweet_quote]Can mobile devices reshape education for the better?[/tweet_quote]
Any parent can tell you that kids are prone to distraction, especially when you put mobile devices in their hands. Yet, research from Project Red suggests that in a classroom setting these technologies can have the opposite effect, helping young students engage with academic subjects and making them more eager to learn.
That’s one of the reasons why educators are beginning to embrace tablets as learning tools.
“Schools are definitely adopting mobile technology for students across the board,” said Elizabeth Crawford, who handles education marketing and strategy at Intel. “The concept of 1-to-1 computing, in which every student has their own device, and the bring-your-own-device-to-school models are at the center of this. It’s impacting how students learn today.”
Integrating mobile devices in the classroom means using the technology in brand new ways to teach students digital literacy, how to navigate social media, and how to share content with the world.
“It’s preparing them with the 21st century skills they’ll need in today’s workforce,” said Crawford. “Part of it is being able to look at information on the Internet and have the critical thinking skills to interpret it and be proficient in understanding it.”
Intel’s Teachers Engage program works with a community of educators to expand opportunities for tech-assisted learning, and aids with curriculum, assessment, and professional development. One of its goals is making sure teachers are comfortable not just using the devices in their classrooms but also embedding them in the learning process.
The program focuses on delivering the “four Cs” to K-12 students: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
Tech integration in the classroom has already yielded tangible benefits. More than simply replacing the need to carry around textbooks, mobile devices can make a powerful impact on students’ performance. Project Red found that schools with a properly implemented 1-to-1 model have seen significant increases in test scores and graduation rates, and dramatic reductions in disciplinary actions and dropout rates.
“We need to look at examples of how this technology is working really well and understand the changes that are possible,” said Crawford. “Graduation rates go up, behavioral problems go down, and students tend to be more engaged in their learning — they’re not bored. Students are actually excited to use the devices. It’s a totally different classroom than the one from the past.”
Despite these advantages, any skeptic would immediately ask, “How much does it cost?” In 2012, a group of education publishers and technology companies, including Intel, presented data to the FCC and the Department of Education showing that widespread tablet adoption would actually lower per-student costs.
Hardware prices tend to drop over time. Coupled with the fact that tablets can trim expenses for paperwork, student assessment and tracking, and lab space, this could save up to $60 dollars per student annually. Given the roughly 50 million students in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide, tablet adoption has the potential to save the education system $3 billion a year.
However, there are some challenges in actually implementing such a large-scale program. For one, educators need to understand the full range of mobile device capabilities and work with the same set of goals and standards.
“It’s very important to have alignment on expectations, from the superintendent to the school principals to the teachers,” explained Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify’s tablet division Amplify Access, which develops tablet-based platforms for education.
“Many of the schools have not had technology in their hands yet. We need to make sure everyone is on the same page and we must have a consistent line of communication to share best practices.”
Boosting broadband access and capabilities is another major obstacle, as the current IT infrastructure in some school districts isn’t prepared to handle the greater load of having every student connected to the Internet throughout the day.
“Even having 30 kids each equipped with a tablet, you’ve increased the connectivity needs by an order of magnitude,” said Smyth.
“We’re working with both broadband providers and the government to ensure we reach the right level of connectivity.”
Technology adoption is accelerating in the education system, according to Crawford, and we can expect to see more sophisticated ways that mobile devices are being customized to meet the needs of the classroom.
“One of the areas of opportunity is digital content and digitizing curriculum,” she said. “There are a lot of digital content providers who are working on getting textbooks caught up. We’re also seeing growing interest in 2-in-1s, which are becoming really useful as learning devices because they combine the mobility of a tablet but also have a keyboard, so they can do more.”
Smyth agrees that the biggest future trend will be tailoring education content to be context-specific.
“How do you connect the dots between K-12 hardware and K-12 content? The next big challenge is the adoption of digital lesson plans – we call them playlists — that help a teacher stitch together different activities and content for their class,” he explained.
“The goal is to be able to link to a video, quiz, or game and then stringing together all these different assets in a smart way to orchestrate teaching in a class.”
Apart from addressing these immediate issues, the long-term potential for education tablets, 2-in-1s, and other mobile devices is vast. Extending the applications for these technologies could mean digitized report cards automatically uploaded for a parent’s perusal, streamlined school back-office operations, and even cafeteria lunch ordering via tablets.
Are your kids ready for a world where the chalkboard is a touchscreen?