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Ed Tech Trends | Research

Mobile Study: Tablets Make a Difference in Teaching and Learning

A pair of studies released Wednesday — the first of their kind — found that tablets can make a difference in the learning habits of students.

The studies are part of a new Making Learning Mobile project, an attempt to quantify and qualify the benefits of mobile technology in education and the infrastructure needed to support mobile activities. The studies were conducted by Project Tomorrow and sponsored by Kajeet, a wireless service provider focused exclusively on kids and education. Funding was also provided by Qualcomm through its Wireless Reach initiative.

The studies put Android tablets in the hands of students and their teachers in two schools — eighth-graders at Stone Middle School in Fairfax County Public Schools and fifth-graders at Falconer Elementary School in Chicago Public Schools — and provided wireless access to the students both in school and away from school. (The devices were HTC Evo tablets.) Researchers then followed the students' activities over the course of a year, with the aim of evaluating "how access to these devices for communication with teachers and classmates increases comfort with technology, extends the learning day, and allows students to develop digital citizenship skills within a safe and secure learning environment."

In the case of the Chicago study, this was the first technology program that actually allowed the students to take their devices home with them. Most of the students (61 percent) did not have high-speed Internet access at home prior to the Making Learning Mobile project. And most had more limited access to technology on a regular basis than other students nationwide on average.

According to the researchers, "Across the board, access to a tablet computer significantly changed the learning environment for the 5th grade students, both in school and at home." Among the positive changes cited in the report:

  • Students had greater access to learning resources outside of school, an the students' use of the devices for educational purposes "exceeded expectations";
  • Teachers increased their communications with students and "creatively used the tablets in a variety of ways to engage students in learning"; and
  • Students changed their learning behaviors as a result of having the devices.

The study found that, contrary to some fears or expectations, students did not engage in "bad behaviors" as a result of having access to mobile devices at home. It also found, however, that teachers need support and clear goals for instructional use of mobile devices.

The Chicago study is continuing for another year.

Over in the more affluent Fairfax County, where the students tended to have greater-than-average access to and familiarity with technology, the tablet program was found to have a positive impact both in and out of school. According to the report, the tablets:

  • Allowed the students to increase the sophistication of their mobile learning activities;
  • Helped the students access learning materials at home "without having to compete with peers or family members" for Internet access; and
  • Gave teachers the opportunity to improve their productivity and "create new learning environments for their students."

The findings are explained in detail in the reports, which are available online.

"This project represents a landmark study in the developing K-12 mobile learning space," said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, in a statement released to coincide with the launch of the reports. "This study is important because it gets beyond simply putting a tablet in the hands of students, and it examines how to effectively implement tablets within instruction to improve student learning."

"For today's students, learning should be a 24/7 enterprise and mobile technology in the classroom is an exceptional tool that allows students to engage and extend their learning opportunities," said Michael Flood, vice president of the education market at Kajeet, also in a prepared statement. "On the instruction side, the teachers experimented with mobile apps and online resources that they couldn't imagine using for a lesson when the project began."

The complete reports are available with registration via Kajeet's site. Kajeet and Project Tomorrow will host a webinar Dec. 5 to discuss the findings. Registration for that event is open now on kajeetevents.webex.com.

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