Blog Post

Mobile learning for K-12 students

Andrew Trotter has a recent article in Education Week's Digital Directions titled "Mobile Devices Seen as Key to 21st-Century Learning" in which he describes some of the findings of the report "Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children?s Learning" by Carly Shuler and published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

While I haven't had a chance to read the entire report yet, I'm encouraged by its proactive approach to integrating mobile devices into the K?12 classroom. I don't have a background in K?12 education, yet in my college experience I have found that too often new technologies are seen as interfering with learning processes rather than imagined as a means of supplementing those processes. (As if non-digital technologies like pen and paper weren't also potential sources of distraction.)

Shuler appears to take a balanced approach to the integration of mobile devices and learning, noting that it is going to be necessary to develop a theory of mobile learning in order to capitalize on the growing ubiquity of mobile devices, but that that theory must take into account the drawbacks of those devices, not the least of which is their unequal distribution among rich and poor.

The report notes that the U.S. lags behind some Asian and European countries, as well as countries in the developing world, in our embrace of mobile technologies for learning. Shuler notes

Developed nations have the opportunity to learn from developing countries, where program developers have little or no track record of e-learning to contend with and are skipping immediately to mobile technologies because of their low cost and ubiquity. In addition, some European and Asian countries have large-scale, government-funded mobile learning initiatives.

Doesn't the model implicit in that description--"program developers have little or no track record of e-learning to contend with and are skipping immediately to mobile technologies because of their low cost and ubiquity"--sound ready-made for the U.S. public education system? Just as many Asian cultures use mobile phones as their primary means of accessing the internet, why can't the U.S. education system sidestep the costly adoption of desktop computers and networking and embrace ready-made cell networks and the low-cost hardware devices that work on those networks?

Perhaps the most useful part of the report is its profiling of twenty-five current research projects in mobile learning. One of these is a math program called Project K-Nect

Project K-Nect, a pilot program in its second year that has placed smartphones--which are mobile phones that have wireless Internet and computer-like capabilities--in the hands of 9th grade algebra students in four North Carolina high schools. Teachers, from their laptop computers, send specially designed activities related to curriculum topics to students? smartphones.

The activities include digital simulations and digital manipulatives that turn abstract concepts into real-world examples. Students can use their phones? video, text-messaging, and instant-messaging functions to send and receive problem-solving strategies and tips to and from students at the other schools and to tutors from the Math Forum at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

It will be interesting to see how projects like this one develop over the coming years. At the very least, they should begin the process of normalizing the use of mobile technologies in the classroom and provide instructors with ideas on how to integrate those devices into their own teaching.



John, that's an interesting project. My first thought was to my friends who teach those ages. The cost of the technology would be prohibitive in many places. The problem, of course, is that technology becomes cheaper quickly, but only after the more affluent early adopters create a market for it. Smartphones are still expensive (I certainly can't afford one!), but I could see an iPhone app being pedagogically effective.


Mike; good point. While smart phones are too expensive to hope that every K-12 student can get one, I was thinking more of cellphones in general, with SMS capabilities and other communication features. As phones with basic features like SMS and even email become more commonplace, I don't think it's a stretch to think that the cost of getting every child a phone is less than the cost of outfitting a computer lab.

Anyway, that was an important clarification I should have made in the post. Thanks for pointing it out.


There's a new SMS curriculum delivery enterprise that I recently found out about, which is pretty cool and could definitely help equalize access!