Thoughts on the Mobile Classroom

Guest post by Claire Teck.

Keep Taking the Tablets?

As Google prepares to fight with Apple for a share of the fast-expanding market, educational apps are really taking off. It’s been shown that gaming and social media can inspire students, helping them to engage with problems in the real world. Apps also have a role to play in educating students with disabilities, including young people with autism. The evidence is that many apps for children and teens can be valuable – as long as they are interesting enough to hold student attention.

It’s estimated that 3.5 million tablets will have been sold to schools across the country by the end of 2013, a rise of more than 40% over the previous year. The majority of those are being used by K-12 students, since college students usually have their own computing equipment. For each tablet sold, a range of apps will also be purchased for use on the device, teaching everything from basic math to ways of getting on together as a community.

Growth in Apps

Mayank Jain is CEO of Splash Math, which produces educational games for younger students, aiming to give a balance between learning and engagement. He said: “We just wanted to bring fun back to math.” Programs like these teach the basics, but without relying on traditional worksheets, while the use of tablet touchscreen technology helps to make them more engaging for younger children. Meanwhile, Trip Hawkins, of Electronic Arts fame, has set up a new company called If You Can. It is launching new game ‘If” for the iPad, where cats and dogs don’t get on – so children have to work to make them live together in peace. The idea is to teach greater empathy and the Pokemon-style game even features input from counselors.

These are just a couple of the ever-growing range of educational apps for tablets and mobile phones, which are now the cue for the latest battle between Apple and Google. Apple has had the lion’s share of this market up to now, with more than 90% of those schools which decide to buy tablets going for its iPads. However, Google Play for Education has just been launched, aiming to sell schools the rival Nexus 7 and other products in the pipeline, as well as the apps that go with them.

Helping Students with Autism

As part of the ConnectED initiative, which aims to spread broadband and high-speed wi-fi to students across the US, 10 “Champions of Change” have just been honored at the White House. They are all educators who use technology to enhance students’ learning experience. One of those honored was Mark Coppin of the Anne Carlsen Center in North Dakota, which has pioneered use of apps to help students with autism. Among those helped by Mark and the center is Cade Brademeyer, 11, who has been enabled to communicate better with his parents and teachers by using a tablet, together with special educational apps. These methods do not work with all students, and all experts recognize that the tablets must be used together with other methods of teaching students with disabilities to be effective. However, while tablets and apps can’t supply a magical solution to problems faced by students with autism and other disabilities, there is growing evidence that they have a role to play in special education.

Cost Issues

The speed at which the market for educational tablets is growing shows the demand for this technology in our schools. The flip side of this, though, is concern about the costs involved. In Los Angeles, there has been a controversy over a plan to provide iPads to students across the city at a cost of up to $1 billion. The program had to be adjusted after concerns were raised over higher-than-expected prices, and there were also problems at some of the first schools to get the technology when some students deleted security software.

Some educators have voiced fears that use of tablets will lead to an over-reliance on a standardized curriculum. There is also an argument that other types of computer, such as laptops, can make a more valuable contribution in schools, because they are better geared to group teaching. It seems as if debate will go on over the right balance of technology, but, in the meantime, many students are being excited and inspired by particular apps, both in and out of the classroom.

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About Vincent

I am an educator, writer, and father blogging about books, TV, education, parenting, and pop culture.

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