- Public schools will never reach a 1:1 student to computer ratio
- Laptops/Computers are not sustainable because they require too much costly maintenance and become outdated quickly
- Most public schools employ vastly underqualified IT teachers/directors
- Training teachers on computer applications tends to be very time consuming and ineffective
- Most teachers do not effectively integrate computers into their curriculum
The answer? Mobile devices. Smartphones, PDA's, Blackberries. Sorry, no iPhones :( Are they not computers? Do they not have nearly all the software that you could access on a laptop or a netbook? And what about all those applications? Compared to software, programing mobile apps is a cinch and you can get it to people faster. Kids are already comfortable using cell phones. Heck, they can text faster on a phone than I can type on a computer! And there are already great learning apps available. For instance, last month I downloaded a bunch of free apps to learn French. They weren't great, but I have a feeling that if I just chalked up the $9 for a good one I could have really started making some progress. I can hear pronunciations, type in responses, and watch two French people interact with second grade grammar! Another use is taking pictures. In biology, have students go on a playground scavenger hunt by taking pictures with their mobile device of recently learned flora and fauna. More uses: download and read books for free, access current events, track constellations, learn vocabulary, explore the periodic table (for real!), use as a scientific calculator. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
The other awesome part - mobile devices are cheap!! They're a fraction of the cost of a laptop and applications are either free or affordable. If companies like Verizon or Cingular pull this off, they'll likely offer the devices for free and just charge for wireless access. Providing every student with a smartphone and a keyboard will save tons of money for public schools. They could even outsource the technology, like they outsource their buses and cafeterias.
As smartphones increase their storage capacity and lower their costs, the desktop and laptop computers become more obsolete. The New York Times published a recent article stating that laptops had no impact on student achievement, cost too much to maintain, and meet with resistance from teachers. Prof. Soloway shared many case studies where mobile phone integration avoided these problems. He's visited schools all over the country and found that teachers learn quickly on mobile devices and students complete their assignments and love using them for learning. More controlled research needs to be done, but so far, the results seem very promising.
Unfortunately, most public schools ban cell phone use during school. Also, without solid evidence from controlled research, education complemented with mobile devices may be a hard sell to the Department of Education and school boards. And will children go blind from looking at a small screen so often? It's important that we don't lag on this research. Schools are laying off teachers and students are falling behind in technology competency. The sooner we can come up with strategies for using mobile devices wisely and effectively in the classroom, the sooner we can close the technology gap, the sooner we can save our schools money, and the sooner we can enrich learning.