Mobile Technology

US Schools Leaving Mobile Devices Idle

A new study reports that we lag behind Asia and Europe in the use of handheld technologies to enhance learning.

THE USE OF POPULAR HANDHELD mobiledevices such as cell phones, PDAs, and iPods inschools continues to attract debate among USeducators. But according to “Pockets of Potential:Using Mobile Technologies to PromoteChildren’s Learning,” the newest report from theJoan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop(, producers of Sesame Street,the debate shouldn’t be around whether thesedevices should be used in schools, but how theycan be used to enhance learning.

The report’s author, Cooney Fellow CarlyShuler, examined more than 25 handhelddevices and research projects around the worldto explore the current use of mobile technologyin learning and identify any challenges toexpanding its use going forward, and to investigaterelevant market trends and innovations.What Shuler found was that, compared to itseconomic rivals in Europe and Asia, the UShas a lack of “well-financed, coherent, or highlyvisible efforts” in handheld-based learning.The notable efforts that do exist, Shuler claims,exist in “pockets” that need to be connectedthrough multisector leadership.

According to the report, educators, vendors,and policymakers must address challenges suchas privacy threats, cultural norms and attitudes,and lack of an accepted mobile-learning modelbefore handheld devices can be fully exploitedfor educational purposes. Once those challengesare addressed, schools should seek out theacademic opportunities that mobile handheldsoffer, including reaching underserved children,improving 21st-century social interactions, andincreasing personalized learning.

The report culminates with an ambitious,multisector action plan to help make successfulmobile learning a reality in the US. The planincludes calls for new investment in research anddevelopment, the building of a digital teacherscorps, the creation of a White House initiative topromote mobile innovation, and the lifting ofbans on handheld devices in the classroom.

The Cooney Center hopes that the report willbridge the gap between what children do withtechnology in and out of school, and bring abouta more engaging and effective learning experience.“Mobile devices are part of the fabric ofchildren’s lives today; they are here to stay,” saidMichael Levine, executive director of theCooney Center, in a statement about the report.“Sesame introduced children to the educationalpotential of television. A new generation ofmobile media content can become a force forlearning and discovery in the next decade.”

“Pockets of Potential” was supported by the Pearson Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS Kids Raising Readers. To view the full report,visit the Cooney Center website at

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.


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