I read an article in Fast Company magazine the other day that talked about the rise in popularity of smartphones and other devices that allow kids to access information anywhere. There are over 6 billion people in the world today and according to the article, it is estimated that there will be 5 billion cell phones by the close of 2010.
To experiment, I downloaded one of the apps (pocketphonics) recommended in the article and turned my 2 year old loose with it (she’s familiar with the iphone already). In no time she was following along with the program and learning to write letters.
So this got me thinking about the larger picture of mobile devices in classrooms. There’s the iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad from Apple. Then there are the droid smartphones that Google has a part in, not to mention the growth of affordable netbooks. A recent survey showed that over 70% of kids already have access to these devices, but unfortunately are not allowed to use them in schools.
Without writing a book, here are a few of the reasons I think that schools should be seriously considering the use of mobile devices in classrooms:
- Cost (Hardware) – A laptop computer runs close to $1000 on most state bid contracts. An 8 GB iPod touch is under $200. In fact, you can buy an iPod touch station that comes with 30 touches and a macbook pro for substantially less that it would cost to buy a few laptops.
- Cost (Software) – Software may be more expensive than computers by the time you add up all the software that needs to be on every computer. Many apps on the other hand cost .99 cents to a few bucks. And if I’m not mistaken, with iPods, you sync all of the touches up to one computer… So if you buy an app once for .99 cents, you can then load it onto all of your touches.
- Fidelity – Not all classrooms I visit are using research based strategies. I know that with RTI, “research based” is kind of a buzz phrase right now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Something is researched based because it works. Things that aren’t researched based may work, but we don’t know that for sure. If you download an app that uses a research based strategy, you know that each student is getting that strategy every time he or she uses it. This isn’t the case in classrooms where lecture is the primary medium used.
- Cost (technology support staff) – I work quite a bit with Assistive Technology. It can be a pain to install, maintain, troubleshoot, etc… A friend of mine in the software world was just telling me that the cost of supporting software in schools is actually more than the software itself. With apps, they are downloaded, maintained and updated through a system separate from the school. Other than a quick how-to tutorial, the technology support team can spend their time on other projects.
- Access – Many kids already have these devices. They can use them at home, school and anywhere in between.
Having said all of the above, there are still all sorts of things that can cause this to not work. For one thing, there is a cost involved. Although computers are more expensive, those are probably already in the district. Setting up an iPod touch or iPad station would have a significant start up cost. Then there is figuring out how to go about purchasing apps, letting students check the devices out, etc…
Of course, we can always think of reasons to not do something, but I challenge people to come up with solutions to make it work rather than why it can’t.
There’s more to this from a global perspective than what I am writing here. I’ll save that for another post. In the meantime, I am working on a session for a few upcoming national conferences. Hope to see you at one of them.