Imagine a classroom where everyone uses a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or other mobile device to search the web, complete assignments, assess progress, create projects, and help each other solve problems. Students use the video capability on their devices to record presentations and then post the video to a shared blog for everyone in their network to see. When the students go home, or to an after-school activity, they take their devices with them so that they can continue working on projects, do their homework, and contact each other or their teacher.
Imagine a classroom of the future that looks a lot like the modern workplace.
The industrial-era model of education—one teacher lecturing to students for a set period of time using a narrow set of resources —is no longer how the real world works. But it is the education model that persists today in schools, and it is critical that we transform the current state of education.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 65 percent of grade school kids in the United States will end up in jobs that have not yet been created. We don’t know what those jobs will be, but we do know that the trend is toward jobs that require workers to think critically and creatively, solve problems, and make decisions as a team. Kids need to be learning these skills in school, using the same technology that we as business professionals use every day.
Unfortunately, schools are not using mobile technology as well as they could be. Mobile phones are often perceived as a distraction in the classroom. Kids are asked to turn off their devices or check them at the door. Sure, smartphones can be a distraction, but only if they are not used as tools for learning. If implemented correctly, the use of always-on, always-connected mobile devices can dramatically improve student success by providing unprecedented access to learning resources and the ability to collaborate with peers and advisers in and out of the classroom. The technology allows curriculum to be personalized for each student and enables real-time assessment of how each student is doing.
In cases where educators have gone against the grain and integrated mobile technology into their classrooms, the results are remarkable. Consider two examples from Qualcomm's Wireless Reach Initiative—one in the U.S. and one in Singapore.
In North Carolina, Project K-Nect began as a pilot program to discover if 24/7-connected smartphones could help high school students who scored poorly in math and did not have Internet access at home.
Students in the program learned algebra through their smartphones, which were loaded with educational software and had constant Internet activity via a 3G mobile network. Teachers made the subject relevant by creating assignments that helped students see math in the real world. Teachers spent less time on direct instruction, instead encouraging students to talk with each other and learn from each other.
The phones also allowed students to work together after school. Using their laptops, teachers could send messages to students on their phones, giving them homework assignments and viewing their work.
The program only allowed authorized personnel to use the secure system, and communications were monitored by teachers who were able to manage assignments and provide real-time support.
Students have discovered creative ways to use the devices and the system, especially the social networking tools such as blogging and instant messaging. One of the most helpful applications has been video. Students recorded each other working out problems on a white board, and then posted the videos on blogs so other students could watch—and learn.
Student outcomes exceeded all expectations. Overall proficiency rates in math increased 30 percent. Nearly 75 percent of the students took additional math courses. More than half of the students said they were thinking about careers that require math. Students in the program performed far better than their peers who learned algebra via traditional instruction from the same teacher. Student achievement increased in other subjects as well.
A major contributor to the students’ success was the e-classroom support structure made possible with mobile broadband connectivity and social networking applications on the smartphone. The technology allowed students to connect with their peers, tutors and teachers after school hours and beyond the classroom’s walls to discuss lessons and share methodology for solving math problems.
In Singapore, the WE Learn mobile education project was designed specifically to teach 21st-century skills to third-grade students and their teachers at Nan Chiau Primary School, a government-designated “Future School” that serves as a model for primary schools throughout Singapore and Asia.
Much like the North Carolina program, students in Nan Chiau Primary School’s 21st-century classrooms use 3G-enabled smartphones and a next-generation mobile learning platform tailored to the capabilities of the phone’s operating system and educational applications to develop customized curriculum in English, Science, and Chinese. The technology gives students the means to take responsibility for their own learning and enables teachers to provide individualized mentoring. It offers learning opportunities that are not possible with paper and pencil.
The third-graders use their smartphones to access assignments; relevant websites that contain podcasts, textual material, and video clips; and educational applications for practicing self-directed and collaborative learning. Files created by students on their smartphones are backed-up and synchronized to a cloud-based teaching management system, providing each student an electronic portfolio that parents can review and teachers can access for grading and feedback purposes.
While today’s 3G technologies are rich with possibility for education, the new 4G LTE technology, which is just beginning to roll out globally, enables faster, more capable networks. This presents greater opportunity for innovation in mobile learning, using advancements such as contextual awareness, advanced audio technologies, smart TV, and augmented reality. These innovations will make mobile learning even more immersive and engaging.
With over 6.3 billion connections globally, wireless technology is now the dominant way people access the Internet. So it isn’t difficult to imagine a day when mobile, as it has in so many other parts of our lives, has a presence in every classroom.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author’s own.