Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years
The mobile market today has more than 4 billion subscribers, more than two-thirds of whom live in developing countries. The global network supporting mobile devices of all kinds now covers more territory than the electrical grid. A massive and increasing number of people all over the world own and use computers that fit in their hand and are able to connect to the network wirelessly from virtually anywhere. Tens of thousands of applications designed to support a wide variety of tasks on a host of mobile devices and platforms are readily available, with more entering the market all the time. These mobile computing tools have become accepted aids in daily life for everything from business to personal productivity to social networking. The range and number of educational applications for mobiles are growing at a rapid pace, yet their use in schools is limited — more often constrained by policy than by the capabilities of the devices they run on.
The available choices for staying connected while on the go are many — smart phones, tablets, laptops, and over the coming year, the iPad and Slate PC will herald a new class of devices that blend the functions of all of them. Access to the Internet is less and less dependent on location, as users adopt cellular-based portable hotspots or the wi-fi that is increasingly available wherever people congregate. The devices we carry are becoming ever more capable, and the boundaries between them more and more blurred. In the developed world, mobile computing has become an indispensable part of day-to-day life in the workforce, and a key driver is the increasing ease and speed with which it is possible to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world via the ever-expanding cellular network.
Users increasingly expect anytime, anywhere access to data and services that not very long ago were available only while sitting in front of a computer linked to the network via a cable. In addition to the typical software for email, communication, and calendaring, new tools allow users to manage personal information (such as Evernote, Nozbe, Wesabe, and TripIt), collaborate and easily access and share files (Dropbox and CalenGoo are two of many possible examples), or keep abreast of social networks (Limbo, Facebook, Foursquare, Whrrl), and generally make checking and updating work, school, or personal information flows something easily done on the fly.
For many people all over the world, but especially in developing countries, where cellular access to the Internet is outpacing more traditional networks, mobiles are increasingly the gateway not only for common tools and communications, but also for information of all kinds, training materials, income-generating work, and more. An ever more common pattern is for people in all parts of the world to look to mobile computing platforms as their device of choice, as they are often far cheaper than desktop or laptop computers. For this group, mobile computing devices are more affordable, more accessible, and easier to use than desktop computers, and provide more than enough functionality to serve as their primary computing device.
A new class of devices emerging in 2010 will present a middle ground for those who need a little more flexibility and power from a mobile platform but do not want to carry a laptop or netbook. Made up of slim, lightweight devices that are neither small laptops nor large smart phones, this group includes the Apple iPad, the HP Slate, the Google Tablet, and others as yet unnamed that are forthcoming from Dell, Toshiba, and other manufacturers. While much remains to be seen about how these may be adopted and used, it is clear that their ability to connect wirelessly at any time and from almost any location, combined with a full range of features native to this new class, will make these devices a compelling option for mobile users.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Expression
The age at which students in the developed world acquire their first mobile device is dropping, and by secondary school, nearly every student has one. The portability of mobile devices and their ability to connect to the Internet almost anywhere makes them ideal as a store of reference materials and learning experiences, as well as general-use tools for field work, where they can be used to record observations via voice, text, or multimedia, and access reference sources in real time. Nonetheless, policies that ban mobile use in most schools keep this technology in the two- to three-year horizon for the second year running.
The range of technologies converging in mobile devices is very broad, as is the variety of ways they can be applied: GPS and compasses allow sophisticated location and positioning, accelerometers and motion sensors enable the device to be used in completely new ways, digital capture and editing bring rich tools for video, audio, and imaging — more and more, mobiles encompass it all.
Even so, it may well be the very simple tools that are easily integrated into classroom activities that finally tip the scale for mobiles in the classroom. For instance, some teachers are beginning to use Twitter (http://www.twitter.com) as an in-class discussion tool. Students participate by sending messages to ask and answer questions or expand on thoughts. Another simple tool, Poll Anywhere (http://www.pollanywhere.com), turns mobiles into personal response systems, enabling teachers to quiz students, assess their understanding before, during, and after a lesson, and reveal patterns of thinking in the classroom. Any mobile will work for either of these purposes; all that is required is the ability to send text (SMS) messages.
Another function common to many mobile devices, yet very powerful in the service of education, is the ability to store and display full-length books. The device used is secondary to the fact that it makes it possible to carry a library of books — literature, textbooks, children’s books, novels — easily in a pocket or purse. Students can use virtual bookmarks to mark important pages, highlight and annotate passages, look up words, and perform other common study tasks right on the mobile device.
The unprecedented evolution of these devices continues to generate great interest. Their ever-increasing capabilities are augmented by the reality that schools do not have to buy or maintain them. Over time, the vast potential of these devices for learning will begin to outweigh concerns about misuse that currently dominate most conversations about their use in school settings. It is the sheer power of these devices that make them interesting, and that power lies in their ubiquity, their portability, the wide range of things that can be done with them, and their ability to access the Internet nearly anywhere through the growing cellular network.
A sampling of applications for mobiles across the curriculum includes the following:
- Geography. At Clementi Town Secondary School in Singapore, mobiles support student field studies in geography. Upon arrival at the field site, instructions appear on the mobiles, and students work collaboratively to carry out experiments, take notes, analyze and synthesize data, and submit their results.
- English. Students can read their assignments and take notes on mobile devices. Notes can be uploaded to a computer by email or text message for use when writing papers.
- Math. Skills that require drill and practice lend themselves to mobile study. Students can get in a few minutes of practice wherever they are — and as many of these applications have a game-like feel, they may not even mind the drills.
Mobiles in Practice
The following links provide examples of how mobiles are being used in schools.
Essa Academy (Bolton, Greater Manchester, UK)
The Essa Academy is itself an evolving mobile computing learning environment. The campus has replaced desktop computers with laptops and issued iPod Touches to each student, encouraging flexible and collaborative learning practices facilitated by mobile technology (this article in MerlinJohnOnline gives additional details: http://bit.ly/aAxU0).
The Florida Virtual School: iPhone Apps
The Florida Virtual School has developed two iPhone apps to assist students in reviewing study material. MeStudying: Algebra 1 is an in-depth review tool for algebra students, including sample problems, guided study aids, and practice tests; Revu4U is a testing and review app that currently also covers algebra but will soon include other subjects as well.
Handheld Learning Conference Awards 2009
These awards are given at the annual Handheld Learning Conference to Primary and Secondary schools who have done innovative projects involving mobile devices. The conference is international in scope and this link provides a list of the 2009 award winners.
International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL)
The mission of the ICDL Foundation is to support the worlds children in becoming effective members of the global community by making the best in childrens literature available online free of charge. They have two iPhone apps for reading and creating books which are available for free in the iTunes App Store.
Serious Games as Mobile Learning At School
The Notre Dame High School in Sheffield, UK will soon allow all students to use cell phones at school in addition to other mobile computing devices as the line blurs between these technologies.
The Use of Mobiles to Analyze Music
This middle school project was recognized by PBS as an innovative effort to have children use cell phones to help analyze different musical styles and genres.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about mobiles.
Apple’s iPad: The Future of Mobile Computing in Education?
(Dian Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 27 January 2010.) This article discusses mobile technology and the way it will affect education once new devices like the iPad arrive.
How the Cell Phone is Reinventing Social Computing
(Gemalto.com, accessed 12 March 2010.) This short summary of several industry surveys gives some insight into the use of mobile devices for social networking as well as some statistics about mobile usage in different areas of the world.
The iPad Changes Everything
(Michael V. Copeland, Fortune, 10 March 2010.) This article examines how devices like the Apple iPad will change our idea of mobile computing.
Making the Case for Mobile Computing
(Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week Digital Directions, 26 June 2009.) This article discusses the merits and challenges of mobile computing in the K-12 classroom.
Sprint Mobile Learning in K-12 Education
(Sprint, February 2010.) One of several white papers listed on this page, Sprint Mobile Learning in K-12 Education looks at several school pilot programs in the United States and examines how the use of mobile phones has improved student engagement and test scores.
Teaching with Technology face-off: iPhones vs. PCs
(Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 February 2009.) One college professor found that students with access to an iPhone studied more than those who used only a PC.
(Tagged by K-12 Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2010). Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hzk10” and “mobile” when you save them to Delicious.