A Practical Way to Increase Access to Mobile Technology

This post was originally published on Eric Sheninger's blog, A Principal's Reflections.

More and more, schools are either installing or improving Wi-Fi networks in schools. We still have a long way to go in many places, but the increase in access provides kids with an array of innovative learning opportunities that continue to evolve. 

With a pedagogy-first, technology-second-if-appropriate approach to instructional design, educators can begin to support and enhance lessons with an array of tools. Sites like Common Sense Education and edshelf make it easy to find the right alignment to the right instructional strategy.  However, if a well-designed assessment is in place, then the natural course of action is to allow learners to select the best tool for the task.

Even though the cost of mobile devices has gone down, considerable purchasing challenges persist. With that being said, I do want to share a pretty cool and practical idea I stumbled upon during one of my coaching visits with Wells Elementary School. As I was conducting some learning walks with the administration team, I noticed some kindergarten students in Deborah Weckerly’s class engaged in blended learning activities using smartphones. As a successful Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) campus, I wouldn’t have been surprised if in fact some of the students were learning with devices they had brought in from home. Knowing though that it is never safe to assume, I asked Deborah if the kids were using their own devices. She laughed and said no in a way that affirmed the apparent observation that these students were kindergarteners. I was then left wondering why I even assumed that they might have brought devices to school.

Since the kids weren’t bringing in the devices, I inquired as to how they made it into the classroom. Deborah then showed me a basket that had at least five devices in it at the time but held a total of eight or so when full. She then explained that over the years, she had asked her family and friends to donate older smartphones for use in her class instead of trading them in for cash or toward an upgrade. I thought this was a genius idea!  She now had enough devices connected to the district’s secure Wi-Fi network to support individual or station-rotation blended learning.

For many learning activities, it’s not the device that matters but instead what learners can do with access to an array of interactives accessible on the web. I can relate to this as well. As my wife was preparing to upgrade her iPhone, she asked me if I wanted to as well. I thought about this briefly until settling on just inheriting her older 6 Plus. For what I use my smartphone for, all I needed was a right amount of storage and the ability to access the Internet for the few apps I depend on regularly. 

Innovative educators like Deborah Weckerly are always looking for ways to improve the learning experience for kids. Regardless of your position, think about reaching out to your family and friends to acquire mobile devices before they are ready to upgrade.  These tools can then be used as part of pedagogically sound blended learning or to support BYOT initiatives where students forget to bring their device or do not have one of their own. In the end, it is essential to always look for ways to improve access and ensure equity so that all learners are provided with a relevant and challenging learning experience. 

For more mobile learning resources, check out this Pinterest board.

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Blog contributor Eric Sheninger is an ICLE Senior Fellow and thought leader on digital leadership and learning. You can book a keynote with him to help your school or district explore solutions for leading and learning in the digital age.