At the recent CTIA WIRELESS show in New Orleans I was so astounded by how wireless has truly revolutionized the area of mobile education that I thought it would make sense to briefly investigate the intersection of mobile broadband and education. We visited a local public school in Arlington, Virginia to get a sense of how they are integrating this new tool into their lesson plans. We also just filed a paper with the FCC describing the benefits of mobile education and highlighting several of the advantages that arise out of employing mobile devices in a classroom setting.
Gone are the days of blackboards and chalk and in are the days of iPads and smartphones. We visited a math class where everyone in the room had their iPad, Nintendo DS or iPod Touch out, ready to participate in the next interactive activity to facilitate the day’s lesson. You should check out the video. It is an amazing look into the classrooms of today.
This scene is more and more common in schools. Kids as young as 5 and 6 years old are learning their school lessons through much more technologically advanced means. With the future of American jobs and commerce clearly becoming tech-based, starting early gives children the tools they need to succeed as adults, as well as creating a much more tailored and engaging learning experience.
It’s not surprising that mobile education is becoming more prevalent in classrooms. Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has estimated that there are 30 new Android devices activated for every baby born in the US. And there are nearly 300 million data capable devices in the US, including smartphones and tablets. Many school aged children have some experience with using mobile technology, either through use of their parents’ tablets or phones or even through their own device. Additionally, much of the new mobile technology is designed in a way that is actually intuitive to children. Coupled with an eagerness to learn new information in a variety of ways, these factors make education a natural field for development of applications and programs.
The speed with which mobile technology has been adopted in the classroom experience is also impressive. For elementary school students 10-15 years ago, the extent of a "mobile education" was the grainy graphics of the Oregon Trail computer game or the Mavis Beacon typing lesson software. Now, children are using mobile devices to virtually “visit” faraway countries, explore the night sky and perform frog dissections, animal-free. The concept of mobile education has shifted from using laptops in the classroom to students completing assignments from anywhere on their smartphones or tablets. Educators and students alike have taken advantage of the robustly innovative wireless industry to maximize their ability to teach and learn. Incorporating mobile technology into the classroom is now a part of many teachers’ training and is becoming increasingly popular as the educational benefits are demonstrated.
Two of the most high-impact developments in the field are digital textbooks and mobile apps for education. Both types of content leverage the advanced capabilities provided by wireless devices and networks, and offer a meaningful supplement to traditional classroom learning.
Digital textbooks have become more prevalent in recent years, for good reason. The digital format offers a myriad benefits to all involved parties. Greater degrees of interaction, opportunity for customization, lower costs and more easily updated materials are a few of the perks that come from using a digital textbook as opposed to traditional printed texts. Both the President and the FCC Chairman have acknowledged the potential of digital textbooks, urging widespread adoption with the goal of every student having a digital book by 2017.
Another significant aspect of mobile education is the app arena. Smartphone apps are no longer limited to games and social networking. There are thousands of applications designed to enhance education and provide students with the opportunity to learn and explore with the touch of a screen. In the appendix to our paper, we list 35 interesting and innovative apps that can be used by students and teachers to create a fun learning experience. As a preview, the list includes apps that can: teach students Spanish, organize their assignment due dates, help with memorization of state capitols, balance chemical equations, provide virtual tours of landmarks around the world and create 3D models of atoms and molecules.
However, this is just the beginning. As more schools begin to explore and adopt the mobile learning model, the resources and possibilities will continue to grow. In order to keep up with the inevitable consumer demand, it’s important to keep moving forward toward the goal of making enough spectrum available so that the future of America, our children and grandchildren, can take full advantage of the opportunities.