Voice from the Industry

Understanding Mobile Should Be a Top Priority

Schools and libraries nationwide have reported that:

  • 56% expect to implement or expand digital textbook use in the next few years
  • 45% expect to implement or expand the use of wireless devices for digital learning

Does that sound like more hype from the telecom industry? Actually, it was reported in the FCC’s annual survey of E-rate recipients from data collected between February and April of 2010. Coincidentally, Apple’s iPad was released in April of 2010, so most survey respondents would still have little to no idea of the forthcoming wave of developments in the tablet market. Yet, already, they were clearly seeing data reflecting the growing adoption of mobile technology by students and growing acceptance by parents — a trend reflected in Project Tomorrow’s National SpeakUp survey data for years. In fact, in the 2010 data recently released, over 60% (70% in high school) of parents said they were likely to buy a mobile device for their children’s use, and over 50% (58% in high school) were also willing to pay for any needed data plan.

As applications, content, and communication over mobile devices continue to proliferate, news and discussion of classroom, school, district, state, and federal strategies for piloting and deploying mobile technology are also abundant. During the summer of 2011, we will see the release of numerous new devices running Android, WebOS, and Windows 7 as well as OS updates for iOS and the BlackBerry Playbook (including its own support for Android). With the convergence of these developments, some education technology vendors have been tempted to “wait out” the storm and hope the dust settles — but is that realistic?

If there is one thing I have learned in over 15 years of web development and over a decade focused on wireless data’s rapid growth, it is that the dust isn’t settling — ever. Students, parents, and even oft-resistant educators are grappling today with the pervasiveness of mobile technology and the opportunity it brings for anytime, anywhere engagement in learning for the individual. With that struggle comes a wide breadth of experimentation without traditional limits and a rare opportunity to engage in a genuine dialog with all parties on every component of the learning environment.

For education technology incumbents with a well-established user base, engagement in this dialogue with genuine efforts to leverage mobile technology to improve the offering is crucial. Instructional staff, administration, and leadership will re-evaluate their relationships, seeking out those that help them leverage these new trends. Case in point : the 2011 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition prompts technology leaders to examine both Cloud Computing and Mobile Technology for increased deployment in the “next 12 months.” If incumbents are not leading that dialogue with their customers, someone else will.

Naturally, that also brings us to the new entrants. Innovative companies will seek out ways in which newly found mobility and the demand for anytime, anywhere engagement will open the door to improved business models and technology. As stated by IDC in December of 2010, mobile app growth will accelerate on smartphones and tablets, and “…mobile apps will find their way into even more devices, including connected TVs and, by extension, the connected home.” Teachers, parents, and students will find new ways to interact not only with educational content but also with each other. Mediums used for social interaction or gaming outside school can increasingly be leveraged to bridge the “in-school” and “out-of-school” experience.

Of course, schools are struggling with this wave of new technology for two major reasons. First, the pace of the onslaught has simply made it difficult to keep up with, much less plan for, the future. Second, this may well be the first true technology where schools have little control over what students actually choose to utilize. Some schools will certainly pick a platform and/or device and deploy that to their students as they have done with netbooks and laptops in the past. Increasingly, however, schools are embracing a “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) or “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) approach that relieves them of the financial strain for the majority of students and allows them to focus on those who cannot bring their own. Regardless, many schools recognize a requirement to move more student activity online either due to electronic textbook mandates, as recently passed in Florida, or the move to online assessments. Mobile Devices will play a significant role in addressing both of these deadlines as students increasingly rely on them as a critical interface for their education. 

At Kajeet for Education, we are focused on ensuring schools and families have the devices and connectivity to enable safe, secure, always available access to the latest education solutions. Just as I have suggested for any vendor above, we have also broken down assumptions long held by the telecommunications industry to develop a new business model better fitting the needs of today. The future may be challenging to predict — but we know it will not be like today.

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Michael Flood has spent 11 years in the telecommunications industry, focused on wireless data services and over half of that time on their impact in education at Nextel, Sprint, AT&T, and Kajeet. Today, Michael is VP, Education Markets, at Kajeet, where he is leading the Kajeet for Education initiative to help schools deliver on the promise of mobile learning. He holds a B.S. from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Michael serves as the Chairman for the Board of Advisors to AIESEC, volunteers with AFS Intercultural Programs, and guest lectures on Education Technology at Georgia Perimeter College. He also serves on the WirelessEdTech Advisory Board and as a member of the Emerging Technologies Committee for the Consortium on School Networking (CoSN). He may be reached at mflood@kajeet.com.