The "Age of Mobilism" in K12 Education

Judy Hartnett's picture
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DA columnists Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris are experts in education technology, and have traveled the world researching how mobile technologies, particularly smartphones, can be used in K12 education.

Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group (SIG) on Mobile Learning. Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE president. They presented an interactive online Web seminar on April 25, as part of District Administration’s District CIO Distinguished Lecture Series, about classroom applications of mobile technology, the potential benefits for learning and what the future holds for mobile in K12.

SOLOWAY: We know that students learn by doing, but this has been very difficult to accomplish using technology. As a result, education technology in the past has had little effect on student achievement. Today, it is clear that K12 education in the U.S. has to make a shift from traditional didactic instruction to a learn-by-doing, self-directed, collaborative learning approach to equip students with 21st century skills, and we believe that mobile technology can help us get there.

NORRIS: The trend towards mobile computing is rapidly advancing. By February 2012, for the first time, more Americans had smartphones than feature phones. Smartphones had already outsold PCs by the end of 2010. Traditional website consumption via desktop or laptop computers continues to decline, while mobile app use is continuing to climb. Clearly, we are not just in the “Post-PC Era,” we are in fact in the “Age of Mobilism,” a global, cross cultural new age defined by connectedness through technology that everyone can afford.

The impact of computers on student achievement has been almost zero. This is because they have been primarily supplemental to an existing and unchanged curriculum. In contrast, what we propose—and what mobile technologies enable—is essential use, where students use computing devices throughout the school day, as well as after school, in constructive and collaborative activities.

We do a lot of research in Singapore, which is famous for its very high test scores. But, the Ministry of Education has realized that their students are not innovative and lack imagination, because the schools are using traditional, didactic instruction. And so, the country is making a shift to inquiry-based, project-based learning to better prepare students for careers in the global, knowledge-work economy. And the key to this shift is mobile technology, because it provides essential use of technology. Elementary students we have worked with significantly outscored their peers on a traditional paper-and-pencil, standardized Singaporean exam. While we haven’t seen increases in achievement because of computers, we are seeing increases through mobile.

SOLOWAY: We attribute this to students’ increased time on task. Students spend more time on task because they feel validated; for the first time, adults are validating their belief that mobile technologies are valuable tools both inside and outside the classroom. This validation is empowering and motivating.

NORRIS: There are five unique benefits that mobile technologies provide for learners. The first benefit is cognitive, in that students have direct and immediate access to information, events, locations and data. Second is contextual, where learning is put in context, in that students are able to connect what they learn in school with the outside world. Third, mobile technologies enhance the social aspects of learning, by enabling students to talk with each other and their teacher while working. Fourth, mobile enables “all the time, everywhere learning.” Fifth, mobile devices are not just computers; they are in fact better than laptops or other computers because they have multiple sensors such as accelerometers, GPS units and more.

SOLOWAY: We believe that a “bring your own device” environment is inevitable in America’s schools in the near future, and administrators need to plan for this future now. We predict that by the year 2015, every child in every grade in every school in America will be using a mobile device in school. K12 education needs to move to 21st century learning, to learn-by-doing, and mobile technology will be the key to making this shift.

Watch this Web seminar

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