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A Parent's Perspective on Mobile Initiatives

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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? 

Community Member

If you haven't seen  @jthompson 's session from InstCon 2015, you should definitely watch it: 1-1 BYOD Classroom Management Using Canvas - YouTube  It's one of my favorite InstructureCon sessions ever.


Thanks,  @tdelillo ‌. I've got that sucker open in a new tab now. I know what I'm doing tomorrow instead of working....just don't try to give me any work to do Smiley Happy


This is a great conversation! As the father of a 4 year old, Instructional Technology Specialist, and long time gadget geek and early adopter, I've also been battling with what to do and how much to do. There are some fine rules of thumbs to follow, "everything in moderation," "use common sense," "guidance goes a long way," but I love that you're actually getting to the hard stuff, the specifics. 

I've also heard concerning headlines about young children and screen time. This is something that worries me since it goes against most of my instincts and also goes against a very strong urge to use technology to aid in parenting ("I just need 5 minutes! Here, go watch Little Einsteins on Netflix!")

Beyond Chromebooks, Tablets, and smartphones, I've also introduced the Google Home into our house. This has been a fascinating experiment for me to observe. "The Google" has been settling arguments, answering fact-based questions, providing definitions and arithmetic calculations, and even helping him learn Italian (a thing he decided he wanted all on his own).

How can this be a bad thing!? I'm not saying it isn't, I'm  just saying that there needs to be a lot more hard evidence and science for us to rely upon because everything else is pushing in the other direction.

 @kenneth_rogers  Thank Youfor beginning this conversation here in the community. It is a very important one!


Also, I'm going to share this with the‌ and‌ groups because they are full of fantastic people who might have more to add to this discussion.

Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi Kenneth Rogers‌: 

What an insightful blog post! It definitely strikes a chord with me because I have a recently turned 2-year-old son. I am always trying to figure out how to balance technology. I really want him to appreciate it, but also read books, use crayons, and communicate with others. Yesterday I was sick and handed him an iPad for the first time without supervision, within minutes he has finding new apps and trying to get me to engage with him. It was scary and awesome. He even figured out how to engage our Amazon Echo! 

Anyways, this topic is similar to how I heard people talk about online learning 15-20 years ago when I started out in this field. How do we find something useful within the technology? Are we just using this for technology sake? In some ways, we are still figuring that out. Mobile technology is even more complicated because it has grown so quickly. It has grown so rapidly that it's hard for the masses to keep up with the changes. This overwhelming change has scared many people into using selfies and YouTube to be innovative while ignoring other awesome tools. I have found that when a technology is hard to understand, people revert to the minimal viable product. Creating Mobile PD is one of the answers, but as you can see, it's not always the answer. 

One of my favorite resources is a company called Participate: 

They have a lot of good examples and resources, which are reviewed by the community. I suggest you check it out. 

In higher ed, especially at UCF, there are no 1:1 programs, but everyone owns a device. Adoption of this technology are optional and not a core part of the curriculum, like in K-12. 

Anyways, I feel like there are two kinds of teachers; ones that embrace and innovate, and others that stick to a more conservative path. My energies are in engaging the former to embrace all technology, including mobile, in a pedagogically sound manner. My hopes are the side effect will influence the "flag holders" on the sidelines. 

I know I didn't give you more answers but thought I'd share my insight for what it's worth. 


awilliams‌ and  @rseilham ‌ - thank you for your feedback. In our children, there's such a fine line between too much screen time/blue light and using the device as a learning tool. With my oldest, I truly believed it benefited him to have interaction with the iPad because access to technology would set him up for the future. Not that he's 6, almost 7 - he can't get enough of any sort of STEM type material. Goodness that kid is a nerd Smiley Wink

Yes, he's had the moments where it was "Here's a video..hush for a minute"...but mostly he had "mommy approved educational apps", or he had a stylus and was drawing, or he played in garage band (still one of his favorite apps). Even with access to the device, my son still loves a REAL book and is constantly stealing paper and my nice ink pens to draw. The technology hasn't ruined him.

With my youngest only being 3 it's hard to know what "impact" the limited technology use will have on him. All kids are different, and I don't want to compare them, but it'll be interesting to see how things turn out. Anyone want to do a science experiment!?!?

Ultimately - I think it's up to us, the Instructional Technologists, Designers, Specialists, Decision Makers, Trainers, Teachers, etc, etc to think about how we are impacting our K-5/6 students/children (both positively and negatively) and what we should change. And those of us in Higher Ed - how are our strategies working? Are they even working? 

<rant>And maybe most importantly, should we put the device down every now and then? Are we forcing technology in areas where it doesn't belong? Just like my phone doesn't belong at the dinner table, a mobile device doesn't belong in every lesson.</ rant>

Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi  @kenneth_rogers  and thank you for starting this very thoughtful conversation!

I do not think many people truly understand what "digital divide" means, despite how many throw that term around like they think they do. I think you get it, and are living an example of at least part or it with your own children. I also don't think many understand that the term "digital natives" really has no meaning. Too many educators would label both your children as digital natives, and clearly as you have described, they are not.

There was a truly great keynote speaker at last year's InstCon who talked about this quite eloquently, Angela Meyers. It really isn't about the technology, it is about the instruction! We see both a lack of 21st Century skills, and mastery of 21st Century skills across all ages and demographics, and as policy-makers, educators, administrators, instructional technologist and instructional designers we must always consider those on the other side of the digital divide. We should design technologically delivered instruction so that the technology is as invisible as possible to the users, and what is visible, we must train, prepare and support our learners for. Otherwise we simply add to the growing divide.

We deal with this almost constantly at our technical colleges, where much of our student retention is lost due to lack of 21st Century skills, and we struggle with the resources to address this problem. We primarily struggle because policy makers are, or have chosen to be, blind to this issue and push technology as it's own goal and its own purpose.

There was a great piece published by Edutopia way back in 2011 called A New Understanding of the Digital Divide, that starts to touch on what it really means. Digital Divide is so much more than access to digital technology, it also encompasses effective access to digital technologies with a degree of skill that permits effective and useful work with those technologies - work like learning and teaching. Sad thing is, I can find very few scholarly articles, papers or studies more recent that 2006; and yet, the use of digital technology in the last ten years has skyrocketed! However, there is one article  from last year from NEAToday (4/20/2016), The Homework Gap: The Cruelest Part of the Digital Divide that does, in a rather fluffy way, touch on some of the issues - okay, really just one of the issues.

And it is so much more than throwing money at technology, and saying "Go forth and be fruitful!"

I will follow this discussion to see what others have to say.



Thank you for the shout out  @tdelillo ! I had a lot of fun doing that presentation, and also felt like the message resonated with the audience. 

 @kenneth_rogers , you've started a great conversation here, and I think all parents and teachers can relate to this. Despite being entrenched in the ed-tech world myself, I still look at my (now) 2-year old and question how much/little I should let him engage with media. As unscientific as it is, I choose to let him continue with using a device if I see him learning something (ex. he's currently watching/interacting with media teaching him numbers, letters, etc.), and I might stop him to go outside and play if the media he browses to gets too frivolous. 

My background in education, and my current role with Instructure provides insight to the educational practices with technology. More often than not in K12, I encounter people whose depth of thought regarding blended learning is “should I buy Chromebooks or iPads?” In higher ed, I tend to get the question, “is Canvas easy for our faculty to use?” Lost in those conversations is exactly what you bring up with respect to training. The questions above are a shallow entry into the pool of what blended learning can be.

The question I always push people to think about is, “what do you want teaching and learning to look like?” Then choose your device accordingly and use Canvas as a lifeblood for those devices, as well as the technology students will inevitably choose to engage with on their own time (ex. smart phone, etc.).

Slightly adjacent to this conversation is also the concept of what attitudes teachers and students have toward the use of technology in the classroom. Those attitudes will also determine a lot with respect to engagement from both parties on this subject. I chose this as a topic to write my dissertation on, and am about to publish my findings. The preview I can give is that the teachers I surveyed and interviewed expressed that they understand students need to develop skills with technology for the workforce and general life skills, in addition to just enjoying the learning process more when it is technologically interactive. The high school students I surveyed and interviewed also expressed that they wanted this as a focus from their teachers.

From the research I’ve seen and conducted, this is a fairly common theme. Now instructors just need to be equipped with the skills to do it meaningfully.