Mobile devices are everywhere, but are they meant for K-12 class- rooms? Many school districts have integrated mobile devices into their schools to enable mobile learning, but studies are yet to prove that 1:1 and BYOD programs truly improve academic performance. Due to this lack of evidence, school districts are hesitant to bring mobile devices into the classroom.
While the numbers may not show concrete evidence of improved academic performance, there is a case to be made for implementing mobile devices in the classroom. Providing every student access to the internet opens a world of learning opportunities. Educational apps and web-based course content are just a few examples of the tools students can access via their mobile devices. These tools enable personalized learning, collaboration and increased engagement both in and outside of the classroom when utilized properly.
Mobile devices have great potential to improve learning when implemented correctly. The following article will discuss the common fears schools face when considering integrating mobile technology into the classroom, and most importantly, how to overcome these fears.
It would be an understatement to say mobile learning is on the rise in K-12 education. Thousands of schools across the country have given students access to mobile devices in order to expand their learning opportunities. For many, utilizing these devices in the classroom is a necessary part of students’ educational experiences.
According to an article written by Darrell M. West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, 52 percent of students in grades 6-12 and 51 percent of school administrators believe that having access to a tablet computer is an essential component of their school.
While many schools have taken steps to implement 1:1 and BYOD programs to enable mobile learning for all students, there are still a large amount of schools across the U.S. that are hesitant to allow the use of mobile devices in the classroom.
There are numerous fears that stem from the thought of implementing mobile learning in K-12 classrooms; however there are also many strategies, technologies and tools available to schools that can help alleviate these fears and ensure mobile learning programs reach their full potential.
Fear #1: Distraction
“I think one of the things people are always worried about is if [the technology] is going to be a distraction in class, is it going to affect classroom management,” says Rich Nichols, director of technology at Perry Community School District. “[Teachers say], ‘I’ve got 25 kids in my classroom all on my computer, and I’m instructing so I can’t watch their screens. Are they going to be doing something they shouldn’t be doing that’s prohibiting them from learning?’”
Keeping students on task while utilizing mobile devices to learn can be tricky. When students have access to the internet, they have access to a sea of non-educational websites. Schools, however, can minimize the opportunities students have to access non-educational content on the web through content filtering solutions.
Content filtering solutions allow IT managers and tech specialists
in schools to block students from accessing certain websites. Solutions such as Comodo, an internet security provider, allow schools to manage their mobile devices, filter content and set policies for both school-owned and student-owned devices.
“Schools are responsible for making sure there are strict policies on blocking inappropriate material. The hard part about that is how does the school manage something they don’t own,” says John Peterson, vice president of enterprise product management at Comodo. “With technology such as Comodo, if a device comes onto the network, it is identified as a guest device and it is only allowed to access certain things on the internet. Some organizations call that a guest Wi-Fi solution, where the wireless network is partitioned off so that users have to go through this extra set of filtering before it reaches the internet.”
Comodo also allows IT managers to set policies on what applications can be used on devices, which has been difficult in the past since applications are stored on the device, not on the internet.
Furthermore, classroom management programs such as LanSchool allow IT managers to monitor students’ screens and know when they are navigating away from websites and programs they are supposed to be on.
Whether schools are looking to implement BYOD or a 1:1 pro- gram, it is important to know that there are numerous technologies available that can help minimize distraction in the classroom when students are utilizing mobile devices.
Technology itself, however, will not completely prevent students from becoming distracted on their mobile devices. It’s equally important that educators have a plan as to how they are going to incorporate mobile devices into their lessons plans and curriculum to maximize student engagement in device-based activities.
“The curriculum must be adapted to work in an interactive-student-centric style. When done right, these tools will make the learning experience more meaningful and engaging for students and do not just exist as another thing to distract them from the real work in front of them,” says Robert Detwiler, senior product director for InFocus, in an email response.
Fear #2: Security
Bringing mobile devices into the classroom, especially in BYOD environments, always poses the risk of schools’ networks being hacked or infected with malware. When students visit unsafe sites on their devices, they risk infecting the school’s network and even risk private data being stolen. These security fears are legitimate, but there are ways to minimize these threats.
Just as Comodo and other internet security providers allow schools to set policies that block students from visiting distracting sites, they can also block students from visiting unsafe sites.
“Creating policies on network access blocks adult material, online games and the spread of malware. So if users are visiting sites and they click on something, the school can ensure that those machines won’t get infected with a virus,” says Peterson.
Perhaps equally important as setting a BYOD or 1:1 network policy is teaching students digital citizenship and how to be responsible when searching the web.
“There’s absolutely a need to educate students on network security and the importance of it- what things they should be clicking on and what things they shouldn’t be clicking on and what the potential risks are,” says Peterson.
When students understand the risks and threats out there on the web, as well as the consequences of those threats, they are more likely to navigate the web responsibly.
Fear #3: Cost
K-12 school districts’ budgets are already tight, and implementing 1:1 programs are expensive. Many educators fear that the benefits of investing in mobile devices won’t outweigh the costs. While this has proven true for some school districts, there are thousands of school districts that have successfully expanded learning opportunities through the implementation of mobile devices.
The success of 1:1 and BYOD programs rely heavily on adequate planning and preparation. If schools don’t have a firm understanding as to how they are going to use the devices to improve learning and education, then mobile devices simply become just another material in the classroom.
“The cost of [mobile devices] is big. We spent almost $500,000 on laptops. That could be teachers, that could be facilities, so we have to understand that this is money that could be used somewhere else, so we have to know what we want to see out of it,” says Nichols.
It’s important for schools to take a look at the learning goals they want to achieve and how mobile devices will help them to achieve those goals. This may mean reaching out to other schools that have success- fully implemented 1:1 or BYOD programs and learning their strategies for leveraging the devices in the classroom. Educators should also take the time to figure out how often they will be looking to use the devices in the classroom. Just because students have access to mobile devices all day, doesn’t mean they have to be in constant use in the classroom.
“Our big philosophy here was to make sure that the teachers didn’t feel forced to have them be used every day. If it doesn’t fit [in the lesson plan], don’t use it,” says Nichols. “That’s been our mantra and I think that’s helped with the adoption process because people feel more comfortable.”
Schools can also consider starting with pilot programs for a specific grade or classroom, rather than an entire school. Starting slow with technology integration can help schools figure out any technical issues or challenges with the devices before spending a large amount of money on thousands of devices. Once the pilot program proves to be successful, then schools can consider implementing more devices.
Fear #4: Failure
Perhaps the most common fear school districts face when considering implementing mobile devices is the fear of failure. Will a 1:1 program or BYOD truly help students learn more? Will it truly enhance student learning?
“It’s difficult because statistically, the data doesn’t show any real academic gains from a 1:1,” says Nichols.
While the numbers may not show significant academic gains yet, 1:1 programs and BYOD are still relatively new concepts. Adjustments will continue to be made both in the tech world and inside school districts to help make these programs successful.
Integrating technology in classrooms is necessary to help students build the 21st century skills needed in the workforce. Coding, programming, and other STEM related skills are needed to keep up with a highly innovative and technical world. Without technology in schools, students will not have the opportunity to build on these critical skills.
The fact of the matter is, technology is not going away. It is a part of students’ lives whether it is being utilized for learning or not.
“The reality is, students, especially in high school, are already bringing in these devices to school,” says Detwiler. “It’s up to the school leaders to determine how to embrace the learning opportunities and online resources that the devices enable.”
While BYOD and 1:1 programs may not be right for every school, they have certainly opened up numerous opportunities for schools across the nation.
“I think right now, if we were to try to stop the 1:1 we’d have an uproar of teachers and students saying we need this. I think it’s now a need as opposed to something nice to have,” says Nichols.
Integrating mobile devices into the classroom is certainly scary, but when schools are adequately prepared and execute these programs successfully, 1:1 learning and BYOD have great potential to expand learning opportunities and help students’ build necessary skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
This article was originally posted in 2016.