Transforming education through technology: devices and apps

Image | Apple

According to a study by IDC, there was an increase in 2012 of 103% in the use of tablets within the U.S. educational system. It is expected this percentage will increase in 2013. In Spain, we shall assess its situation in more detail in the next post of this special series. In advanced, it worth highlighting that there are several educational institutions participating in pilot programs that investigate the eventual benefits coming from the introduction of mobile devices in education.

Among the various Spanish initiatives, mSchools stands out by its own right. It is a project carried out jointly by GSMA, MWC and the Generalitat of Catalonia aiming to introduce mobile solutions in Catalan schools so as to improve students’ performances and reduce dropout rates. An investment of half million euros per year is planned over the next five years.

Manufacturers are aware of these figures and are therefore focused in this field. Sony, for example, has designed a specific tablet for universities and News Corp is planning the release of Amplify, a combination of apps and tablet aimed at elementary school students.

Apple is promoting its iPad as an indispensable companion for learning. It has released iTunes U, an app oriented to the education sector and available for all educational levels. Through it, teachers can design and teach their courses: recorded (audio or video) lectures, Internet materials, books… When the teacher introduces something new, students receive a notification reminding them to be alert to the topic’s new inputs.

In addition to the initiatives of manufacturers, institutions and foundations, it is also worth noting the role played by projects undertaken by entrepreneurs, as we have seen in the case of social networks to improve education.

What are the benefits of using these devices?

As we have seen, manufacturers are aware that the future of education lies in electronic devices, but — what can these bring to education? Can they help students acquire knowledge? Definitely. Through their connectivity, it is possible for students to access interactive and customized content through which they can fathom the areas where they need more support.

Learning through Internet also gives access to many resources that, otherwise, most schools could not afford. Taking students to visit a famous monument in Italy is unrealistic, but a virtual tour is clearly feasible. Works of art, interactive maps… Only teachers set the limits. Moreover, students can continue their courses by distance learning, studying from home.

The ability to display the information to each student, who is the one able to navigate through it and interact with it, and even interact with their own peers, encourages visual memory and facilitates the understanding of the different issues. With all the apps available, students are allowed to unleash their creativity. At a pedagogical level, the motivation for learning is bolstered. This is a vital issue in order to improve academic performances.

The challenges of using mobile devices in education

However, the adoption of mobile devices in education has also its associated downside. One of the most important may be the price. The initial investment to acquire these electronic accessories is high, and often the content media (ebooks, courses, etc.) are also expensive.

The same goes for maintenance: if a device breaks down, fixing it is not exactly cheap. Another issue to solve is the lack of ebooks and other academic media, particularly in Spain.

Will tablets overcome all these problems and become a must for students? Will they replace the traditional (and heavy) textbooks that children have to carry to school every day? What else can they offer? We will analyze these issues and more in the next posts of this special series throughout the week.

The mSchools programme is a multi-year, multi-faceted mEducation initiative by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The mSchools programme is designed to lower dropout rates, improve student attainment in schools across Catalonia and throughout Spain and, ultimately, to better prepare students as they pursue further education and employment in today’s digital world.

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