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In today’s blended learning environment, an increasing number of students and teachers have access to technology that extends the educational process well beyond the classroom walls. As part of this trend, school districts across the U.S. are implementing practices and policies that transform learning environments into one of participatory learning, for the purpose of improving student outcomes.

Participatory learning is a collaborative student-centered environment in which students learn from both their peers and teachers using digital media resources and other tools.

With over 200,000 applications available for Apple’s iPad and thousands more for Android devices, educators and students must sift through a lot of apps to find effective learning tools. An app is software that allows users to perform specific tasks on a mobile device.

Sixth-graders from the Wayland-Cohocton Middle School in New York train on Toshiba tablets, which the school won in a 2010 Win a Wireless Lab Sweepstakes.

Tablets have come a long way since Apple launched its pioneering Newton MessagePad in 1993, the first Internet-connected flat-screen device pairing a stylus with handwriting-recognition software. Since then, computer hardware companies have been refining and experimenting with the concept of Internet-connected tablet computing devices. The personal digital assistant (PDA), convertible laptop/tablets, dual-screen booklet tablets, e-book readers and other designs have been among the many iterations of tablet computers, sometimes known as slates or media tablets.

Kids texting

Make no mistake: 2015 is the year in which each and every student in America's K12 public school system will have a mobile device to use for curricular purposes, 24/7. For the majority of schools, one-to-one will be achieved because they will have adopted a BYOD policy: Bring your own device. Schools simply can't afford to buy a computing device for every student: Bonds aren't passing, and budgets are being slashed. And most school-age children are acquiring their own mobile computing devices for entertainment and communication. But there is no free lunch—surprise!

In your schools, In your classrooms, you will soon allow students to use computing devices they already own. While today 99 percent of schools ban cell phones and other mobile devices from the classroom, there will be a 180-degree turnaround within four years. This coming shift is inevitable.

Every fifth grader in Cimarron Elementary School in the Katy (Texas) Independent School District has been using MLDs since October 2009. The suburban district west of Houston has about 58,000 students. Six general education teachers and one special education co-teacher are participating. Students are using their MLDs for more than half of the school day in science, reading, language, social studies and math. They are using their MLDs at home, as well.

Starting in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District, in a small, rural town in upstate New York, put HTC 6800 smartphones in the hands of about 200 fifth- and seventh-grade students and 20 teachers (including special education support teachers) in three schools. We had felt that it was too risky to give students access to cell phones and texting with all of the problems associated with them, but when Verizon Wireless said they could turn off the voice and texting capabilities of the devices, we jumped at the opportunity to do a pilot study.