Mobile learning is on the rise, and consequently, so is the need for mobile connectivity. According to a 2010 survey of E-rate consumers, including public schools and libraries, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 50 percent of respondents said they plan to implement or expand the use of digital textbooks and other wireless devices.
As districts across the country debate the boundaries of social media in the class room, Missouri took an unprecedented step by passing the first statewide law banning teachers from individual communication with their students on social networks. The bill was passed with bipartisan support in the Missouri legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon on July 14. The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which became effective Aug. 28, was created in response to a middle school student who was sexually abused by a teacher following communication on Facebook.
While tablet computers like the iPad get more attention, eBook readers—comparatively simpler devices designed specifically for reading electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers—are currently selling in greater numbers and at a faster rate than tablets. E-book readers also hold much appeal for education, and for the same reasons they are increasing in popularity with consumers: ever-improving features and growing capabilities for displaying a variety of content, for a fraction of the price of most full-featured tablet PCs.
To the more than 600 million members of Facebook and the expanding legions of Twitter users, you can add a growing number of schools and districts. Whether communicating with parents and the public, enhancing classroom instruction and staff development, or rallying school spirit, administrators and teachers are beginning to leverage the interactive and multimedia features of social networks that have the added advantage of being widely and easily accessible—and free.
Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.
The Common Core State Standards are bringing some changes to curricula across the country—but not just in the classroom. School librarians are preparing for the shift and its new emphasis on 21st-century skills including information literacy, primary resources, independent thinking and complex texts. The New York City Department of Education—the nation's largest school system—is relying on its library staff to implement these standards in the coming years.
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!
School administrators are faced with a wide variety of choices and a huge market when it comes to products and technology. According to a report issued in March by market research firm Compass Intelligence, school districts spend over $18 billion annually on IT-related purchases, and the market is projected to grow to nearly $21 billion by 2015.
The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) officially announced to the FCC on July 13 that it has identified additional monies to fund FY 2010 E-rate Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections) requests at the 80 percent discount level. Schools and libraries that are entitled to 80 percent E-rate discounts serve some of the country's most financially strapped communities.
Administrators shouldn't only look outside their districts for something new when researching possible products or technology to purchase; solutions can sometimes be found in unexpected places. "When we get a request to purchase something new, such as curriculum software, we do a thorough examination of what we already have to make sure we don't duplicate functionality," says Roderick Matthews, director of information technology in the Recovery School District in New Orleans.
The most high profile one-to-one implementations have come at the state level in Maine, Michigan and Texas, providing valuable examples for administrators to learn from.
An unexpected $50 million state surplus allowed Gov. Angus King to finance the 2002 deployment of Apple iBooks to all of Maine's seventh- and eighth-grade students and teachers under the newly legislated Maine Learning Technology Initiative. The primary goal of MLTI was to transform learning to prepare students for the technology-based workforce and, in turn, help boost the state's economy.
As Bailey Mitchell, chief technology and information officer in the 36,000-student Forsyth County (Ga.) School District, describes it, the way in which the school system made decisions about technology in years past was inefficient and pretty dysfunctional. "We'd go out and buy something, but if we didn't ask anyone if it was instructionally relevant, it might not be used," he says. "On the other hand, administrators in the academic and accountability departments would make a decision about something that might work for them and then lay it on the technology people to figure it out.
81 percent of administrators said their districts were adequately teaching students about Internet safety, but just 51 percent of teachers said so. SOURCE: National Cyber Security Alliance and Microsoft