By Brian Sharp, CEO of SmartEdTech
Hoping to give every child access to unlimited learning opportunities, K-12 schools are spending billions of dollars on Chromebooks, tablets, and other digital devices each year. But, there are a number of key challenges that stand in the way of achieving a mobile learning return on this investment.
Hart and Risley’s groundbreaking research from the mid-90s demonstrated that children from low-income households have heard 30 million fewer spoken words by age three than children of the same age who come from wealthier families. Studies suggest that if this 30 million word gap is not addressed during the very earliest grade levels, it results in smaller vocabularies, weaker reading skills, and lower test scores across a wide range of subject areas as students get older.
Mobile devices and apps have the potential to help close this gap. In essence, they can extend the teacher’s classroom presence by giving students more opportunities to practice important cognitive and literacy skills, so children who are struggling can catch up with their peers. For instance, the Martha SpeaksTM app from the Public Broadcasting System has been shown to improve the vocabulary of young children ages 3-7 by nearly a third (31 percent).
But, with nearly 1 million educational apps currently available in the various app stores, educators are overwhelmed with how to leverage this vast amount of content in a way that supports the individual needs of diverse learners.
K-12 schools have placed a great deal of emphasis on formative assessment in recent years, and as a result, teachers now know a lot about their students’ learning needs. Putting data in the hands of teachers is terrific, but we tend to assume they will know what to do with all of this information to support their students who are struggling—when research suggests that isn’t always the case.
In reality, many teachers don’t have time to research, discover, and assign the very best apps for addressing the particular skills that each of their students may need. With all of the other tasks they are responsible for, this can be too daunting a task. So, what often happens is that teachers assign the same apps for all of their students, regardless of whether those learning tools are most appropriate for each student’s unique circumstances.
What’s the Solution?
Some edtech companies have developed solutions to this challenge by building platforms that can suggest appropriate content to remedy students’ specific learning needs. While these solutions can be effective, they tend to be proprietary, suggesting only content from the provider itself or an exclusive industry partner.
What educators need is a vendor-neutral mobile learning ecosystem that can prescribe appropriate content to meet each child’s specific learning needs from a vast library of carefully vetted, high-quality apps from any provider. Such a solution would protect a school district’s prior investment in apps and content, while also adding tremendous value to this investment.
If this mobile app prescription engine were embedded within a school system’s assessment, data analysis, or learning management system, so that teachers could simply click on a button to receive a list of the mobile learning content that is most relevant for particular students, imagine how that would instantly make teaching and learning with mobile devices more effective!
Another key challenge in using mobile apps for learning is progress monitoring. Some apps do this very well—but some don’t do it at all. And even when educators are assigning apps that do monitor and report on students’ progress, these apps all have their own separate dashboards. Teachers must switch from one app to another to get a complete picture of their students’ abilities, which takes too much time.
Now, imagine if the mobile learning ecosystem I just described also had the ability to aggregate the data from all of the apps students have used, so that teachers could look at the data in one spot to see how apps are influencing student achievement. How much easier would this make the job of the teacher—and how much more effective would it make learning with mobile devices?
Of course, this would require the cooperation of mobile app developers. But in return, developers would be part of a system that has the potential to increase the value of mobile learning significantly.
Helping teachers match students with high-quality mobile content that meets their individual learning needs bridges the chasm between data and action. It can make teachers more efficient and mobile learning more personalized and effective, helping schools reap a higher return on their investment in mobile content and devices.
Brian Sharp has nearly 20 years of experience in senior management positions with edtech companies. He is the CEO of SmartEdTech, a mobile learning platform and content aggregator that gives schools an easy way to provide an individualized, effective mobile learning experience for students.