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I was recently browsing the internet for random quotes or facts to put put on the backside of some personal business cards. I found interesting information such as "76% of MOOC attendees are male." (Chronicle of Higher Education). Or the amazing gem that "82% of employers think you're better suited for a job if you've been travelling." (Business Insider). But one of the most compelling bits of information I found was that "5 BILLION people worldwide now have a mobile device" (Digital Trends). As I dug further into that information, I found that 80% of the US population has a mobile device (this was from Venture Beat, but from further research I have found that this should say smartphone).


If we begin to expand upon the world wide mobile device saturation, we find that a bit more than half (2.6 billion) of those devices are smartphones. But that figure is from 2 years ago (2015)! And two years ago, there was an estimation that "total mobile" footprint (which could be multiple devices per user) could reach 9.2 billion!!


I purposefully titled this blog as "reaching everyone" because when we typically think of mobile devices in education, we automatically revert to "classroom on the go", or "mobile friendly classes/quizzes". We have had those discussions before, but I want to think about mobile in a different way - mobile devices for reaching economically disadvantaged individuals in their education around the world or in rural areas of the United State.


We have a duty to the students we teach and/or support to ensure they receive a quality education and that they can access course material wherever they are (and that includes financially). When the iPad first came out and we were all scrambling about what this meant for us; but the device was not ready yet. The apps weren't ready yet either. But now? Now the various platforms are finally to a point to where a student would actually be able to facilitate their learning from a mobile device; whether it's a phone or a tablet.


If you look at the information from the Tech Crunch article where I'm getting most of my numbers, they are forecasting that the majority of the growth for mobile devices will be in Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific. Even though I do not directly support students from those areas, I may have a student with family there that will need to go back for a visit, and I need to ensure the technology is in place. Or I can do my part and push educational app developers, such as Instructure, to create applications that affect more than one type of student. This is why I made my voice heard on How do you feel about offline content for Canvas Mobile? Other than pushing our vendors or making sure the technology is there, how can make sure our students are supported with mobile?


I'll leave you with two thoughts:

  1. I purposefully left teachers off of this and focused only on the students. The Canvas for Teacher app is being re-built, so if the conversation went app specific "problems", I wanted to stay away from that app.
  2. Here's a great quote I'm putting on the back of my business card:
    • Interest does not always equal attention.

I have been working in Higher Education for twelve or thirteen years now. I can remember using a VCR to record videoconferencing sessions, and now we have SaaS technologies for remote learners around the globe. I remember the click wheel on the iPod. I also remember when the idea of mobile learning on some campuses was providing a podcast of lectures in iTunes. Recently I have been struggling with K12 mobile initiatives; mainly because it directly affects my family. Let me preface my writing with some warnings:

  • I have two children. One of my children is in first grade and I have engulfed him in mobile technologies in our house since he was about 18 months old (with limitations). My second child is a bit older than 3 and has had relatively little exposure to mobile devices.
  • My wife is an elementary educator. She teaches Special Education and was first in the classroom in the Fall of 2007. She stayed home for a few years, but she is now wrapping up her 5th year teaching. Because of her, I have "seen" mobile devices in the classroom, out of the classroom, and district wide "initiatives".


Because my wife is an educator, she was very concerned about exposing my oldest son to "screen time" when he was so young. By the age of 2, he was navigating an iPad like a pro. I was amazed at his brain and how he was able to handle these "tasks". He would start in one app, play a little, go to another and sing a song, cycle through some more, and then complete the circle by coming to the app with the song and continue singing where the song left off. I was amazed. Granted, there's always the chance I scarred him (if there are any early childhood experts here, please let me know!), but I wanted that exposure for him. We were fortunate that I had A LOT of mobile devices for testing purposes at a previous job, so we might as well use them, right?


Now with my second son - he has had considerably less interaction with mobile devices. He turned three in December, and he probably played on an iPad or iPhone for the first time in the past 3-4 months. His frustration with the device is noticeable. He gets confused about where to tap, doesn't understand the purpose of the games/educational learning activities, and eventually just switches to the next app.


Why does the difference between my two boys matter?

I truly believe it is imperative for any educational institution, both Higher Ed and K12, to have a strong, top down, mobile learning initiative in place. However, sometimes when just technical people or district level trainers are involved, pedagogy or learning outcomes are solely missed (I'm guilty as well).


Take my two children - they come from the same house, have access to mobile devices (as long as we allow them!) and both Windows and macOS machines - yet I would only label one of them as "technically proficient" (and yes, I know one of my children is 3). The district my wife works for and my oldest attends recently had a large iPad roll out, and my son has said "I watch YouTube and play games on them..." I know my son can navigate the iPad just fine, but what about his peers? I know the demographics of his school, and there is a possibility that some children do not have regular access to devices. Are we giving our students an iPad just to say the device is in the classroom? Or are we giving a true exposure with measurable learning outcomes?


What about training for classroom teachers? How do you train teachers to work with students who may not understand the functionality? What about helping your teachers on how the device can impact learning and not just help them in their job? Parent and spouse aside - as a tax payer in the district, I want to ensure I didn't just help pay for a pretty little paperweight. My wife went through 8 hours of iPad training when the massive roll out happened; it was worthless. Teachers were taught how to take a selfie. Then they were taught to take a video and upload it to YouTube. Those two things took one day (two hours).


What is the answer?
I have no idea! Every district and college has a different make up. But - ensure your classroom teachers are properly trained on how mobile devices will benefit teaching and learning. Ultimately, ask yourself, "What is the value add for the student?" We have all seen the highly publicized district iPad roll outs in the last few years. How many of them had a measurable success for the students? 

I recently ran across this old blog post I wrote about ensuring mobile applications and utilities are engaging the end user and are not used just as a means to deliver content. While the original blog post was written a little over a year ago, much of the information still holds true today. We need to make sure we engage our students, faculty, parents, and even our community with our applications. Below is the original post, from June 8, 2015 on my personal site:



One of my passions since the start of implementing mobile technologies in the classroom is seeing how we can creatively use these technologies across the campus or district.


Probably my first exposure to mobile technologies in the classroom was in 2005 or so, with the rise of iPods and other portable mp3 players. Within the educational setting, we had a new way to deliver digital lectures and other learning materials to students to listen to “on the go”. This also helped with the rise of iTunes U, but we still had an issue – students are only consuming data, not interacting with faculty and peers, and it is only related to the classroom, not across the enterprise (student services for example).


After the sort of mp3 “boom”, we started to see the rise of smartphones, specifically the iPhone and our ability to expand the content delivery was great. However, for awhile, the interaction with the content was still very static. It was with the start of the iStandford application (MobilEDU, acquired by Blackboard, turned into Blackboard Mobile, then rebranded as Mosaic), that the idea of providing access to student services information and providing institutions a new (and mandatory) way to market themselves. There was (is) still a problem – the apps were created in a manner that it was still a content delivery model. Yes, there are ways you can interact with the app, but how can you begin to interact with your school?


Some vendors that came into the space started adding ways to authenticate into the student information system, providing access to holds, financial data, registration, etc. All major LMS vendors have apps as well for students and faculty to discuss with each other and interact with other content or interactive tools. BUT, this is only a start. It is not only important that we provide real-time access to information for students, but all students want to feel connected to the institution and want mobile technologies to improve their lives (ability to check in to visit the financial aid office or, better yet, real time communication with campus support staff).


mobileAn even bigger question is, "How does this translate to K-12??" Many vendors have taken their Higher Education applications and either made minor changes for the K-12 market, or even worse are using the same technologies with a different message. I would say, in the K-12 area, it isn’t just about engaging students and providing access to mobile technologies in the classroom, but now we have to engage parents and maybe even the community with the equivalent of a student services application.


My oldest son starts kindergarten this August, and I could be a mobile nerd (I am), or a too engaged parent (TBD), but I have already downloaded the district app and played around to see if it will meet my “needs” as a parent. Because some of the information is now outdated (end of the school year) and because most doesn’t pertain to me yet, the verdict is still out as to whether or not I will be satisfied with the application as a parent or not. I will say, though, that so far it appears as if a majority of the information is very static, which is always a problem because of there is always a need to update information.

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