Dec 20 2013

Can Smartphones Help Bolster the 1:1 Learning Environment?

A prominent educator asks if 1:1 is really enough for K–12 schools.

The basic idea of a 1:1 environment is that there’s a computing device available for every student. But in the corporate world, most workers are walking around with two to three devices. So is a 1:1 environment in the classroom really enough?

It’s a point that Lisa Nielsen, an innovative educator and prominent blogger, raised recently in a post on her blog, The Innovative Educator, which was named an EdTech Must-Read K–12 IT Blog.

In the post, Nielsen offers five reasons for integrating smartphones into the 1:1 puzzle:

  • Reduce drain on bandwidth. We are all familiar with school bandwidth issues. When more students are using their own mobile devices, there is less drain on school-wide bandwidth usage.
  • More resources available to all. Cell phones are no longer single function devices. Today, even the most basic phones have audio and video recording, camera, calculator, and more. Imagine if every classroom had a few more of these resources. With cell phones, they do.
  • Transfer and apply school learning to daily life. School devices often can’t be taken home. As a result the learning device is locked in the school. That’s not the case with cell phones. If we support students in using these powerful learning tools, learning becomes tied to the student, not the school.
  • More time on task. Most young people are lickety-split when it comes to typing on their phones. Many prefer these devices and enjoy the benefits using them provides. Additionally, just like in the real world, during times when we’re waiting for our computer to turn on, load, or process, we can be doing other work on our phones.
  • Workaround for battery life issues. When we support students in using multiple devices, battery life issues become less of a burden. One device can be charging as another is in use, or strategic use of both devices can provide power all day.

In higher education, the case for smartphone use is perhaps easier to make. But in many K–12 environments, the restrictions on devices that can be used on campus are still being lifted.

Still, some school districts are blazing trails with smartphone use in the classroom. The Evergreen School District in Montana recently decided to move forward with a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, and so far, school officials have been very pleased with the results, according to a report from the Daily Inter Lake.

Similar to Nielsen’s point that post-school life demands that students juggle multiple devices for different tasks, school leaders and students feel that adding smartphones into the mix is a key part of preparing students for the real world.

“Students truly do feel like we are making strides to meet their needs,” said Vic Dalla Betta, an eighth-grade science teacher in the district, in the Daily Inter Lake article. “One of them remarked that these lessons involving Bring Your Own Device are as close to how they envision their future as they have ever experienced in a school setting.”

At schools in the Anchorage School District in Alaska, smartphones are allowed provided they comply with the district’s BYOD policy. Students who don’t have smartphones can continue to use the school-owned notebooks and tablets, reports The Anchorage Daily News.

The hope is that devices will serve as a kind of educational Swiss-Army knife: graphing calculator, assignment calendar and dictionary in one tidy package — and one the district doesn’t have to pay for.

The district is not requiring anyone to buy or bring a smartphone to school. BYOD is optional for students. Those without smartphones can use school-owned technology, such as laptops or tablets.

Has your school district explored integrating smartphones into its 1:1 learning environment?