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Report: Parents See Benefit of Mobile Tech, Want Schools To Take Better Advantage

A new survey from the Learning First Alliance and Grunwald Associates suggests that parents of young children, girls, and students who are required to use portable or mobile devices in school are more likely to see the educational potential of such devices.

The report, "Living and Learning with Mobile Devices: What Parents Think About Mobile Devices for Early Childhood and K-12 Learning," is based on a survey of parents with children aged three to 18 about their attitudes regarding portable and mobile devices as they relate to a range of learning benefits. For the purposes of the survey, mobile devices were defined as "wireless handheld devices that use Wi-Fi, 3G, or 4G to connect to the Internet, many of which use an operating system such as iOS, Windows, or Android, and can run various types of apps." Portable devices include laptops, notebooks, netbooks, and ultrabooks.

School Use
Among parents whose children are required to use portable or mobile devices at school, 93 percent said they completely or somewhat agreed that the devices could make learning more fun, as compared to 83 percent of other parents who responded. The two groups overlapped less for all other learning benefits and showed the greatest divergence when asked if they agreed that mobile or portable devices could help their children "excel or perform better in school," when they responded positively at a rate of 77 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

At least 54 percent of parents surveyed in each group told researchers that they agreed mobile or portable devices could provide other benefits they were questioned about, which included:

  • Promoting curiosity;
  • Learning about current events;
  • Teaching math, responsibility, reading, science, foreign language, social studies, and problem solving; and
  • Encouraging reading.

Among all parents surveyed, only 17 percent reported that their children were required to use mobile or portable devices in school. Similarly, only 16 percent of respondents told researchers that their children were allowed to use family-owned devices. Ten percent said they didn't know what their school policy was regarding family-owned devices and 72 percent said that their children could not use their own devices at school.

Girls and Boys
The study also found that parents of girls reported that their children used mobile devices at a greater clip, 75 percent, than those of boys, at 67 percent. The gender divide remained when interviewees were asked about specific devices, with girls' parents saying that their children used tablets and e-readers nine percent more often than boys' parents.

Parents of girls were more likely to tell researchers that they believed mobile devices and apps had learning benefits as well. The greatest difference in this category was the ability of the tools to "create new ways to interact with others," with girls' parents saying they agreed 76 percent of the time and boy's parents agreeing at only 64 percent.

The Age Gap
While the parents of children in grades K-2 were the most likely to report their children as non-users, at 29 percent, they were also more likely than other groups to tell surveyors that they agreed mobile apps and content could provide learning benefits. When asked about the effects of apps and content, those parents said they agreed that the tools could promote curiosity, foster creativity, or teach problem solving, reading, science, or foreign language at a rate at least seven percent above any other age group. The only subject they didn't express stronger agreement about than other groups was social studies.

Parents of younger children also "strongly prefer tablets," according to the report, as opposed to parents of teenagers, who reported they believed laptops had the most educational benefits.

The study also found that parents in each age group were more likely than those in older groups to report that the apps their children used regularly had at least some educational value, with those in the preK group saying that their children used apps that were educational 52 percent of the time and parents of children in the oldest group reporting that only 24 percent of their children's regularly used apps had educational benefits.

General Findings
Other key findings of the survey include:

  • The "vast majority" of students have access to technology at home, with 77 percent of parents who responded reporting that their family owns a laptop and 46 percent saying they have one tablet or more;
  • More than half--51 percent--of all high school students and 25 percent of all K-12 students represented by parent respondents carry a smartphone every day;
  • Forty-five percent of parents who responded said they had already bought or were planning to buy a mobile device in support of their child's learning and 56 percent said they'd be willing to do so if their school required it, yet 78 percent told researchers that schools requiring devices should provide them;
  • Most parents, at 71 percent, said they agreed that mobile devices opened learning opportunities, 69 percent said they could benefit learning, and 59 percent told researchers they could engage students in the classroom;
  • Sixty-two percent of parents who responded to the survey said that mobile devices could be a distraction, but only 25 percent said they are not effective learning tools;
  • Awareness of school policies regarding mobile devices increased among respondents along with the age of their children, with 70 percent of parents of K-2 children reporting that they knew what the school policy was and 90 percent of parents with the oldest children reporting the same;
  • Fifty-two percent of parents said they agree that students should make better use of mobile devices, 32 percent said schools should require their use, and 35 percent told researchers that they were not luxuries in school, but necessities; and
  • Respondents told surveyors that teachers should recommend apps and schools should teach their children how to use the devices safely at a rate of 43 and 64 percent, respectively.

Recommendations for Educators
The report concludes with recommendations for educators, industry, and mobile learning advocates. Those for educators include:

  • Leverage the tools that students already have access to by taking a need-based approach to providing devices while ensuring equal access as much as possible;
  • Offer advice and guidance, differentiated by grade level, on educational use of devices and apps;
  • "Model the safe, productive use of mobile devices as learning tools";
  • Enlist the support of tech-savvy parents and those with younger children and "super users" who are more likely to support the use of mobile and portable devices in the classroom;
  • Communicate with parents better with regard to mobile and portable device policies;
  • Connect, via "online communities of practice and other forums," with educators who are already using mobile devices in the classroom; and
  • Develop partnerships with industry in the development of devices, apps, and content.

For more information, or to read the full report, visit grunwald.com.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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