Attending the 2014 Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Conference & Exposition in Austin got me thinking about my own schooling. There was no such thing as a cellular phone, tablet or ’phablet,’ much less anything that could be considered a smart device – other than a teacher and an overhead transparency and book projector.

Today, mobile learning has been earmarked as a prominent technology trend in education. If fact, the 2012 NMC Horizon Report called it the number one emerging technology trend. Students and teachers alike are utilizing notebooks, Chromebooks, tablets and many personal devices of all makes and sizes in the classrooms in large numbers.  In addition, according to the Common Sense Media report, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, more than 75 percent of U.S. children 8 and under have access to at least one smart device at home.

This TCEA expo featured mobile devices and software from well-known manufacturers as well as a large number of startup companies, all with unique and innovative solutions to everyday challenges. There is no silver bullet for all mobile learning needs and many are still immature or experimental.

As you might imagine, careful planning at every step of implementation can help to avoid many pitfalls that early adopters have experienced. It is all too common for schools to procure the hardware and devices before having a well-developed roadmap. This can lead to resistant adopters and a more cumbersome learning experience than traditional teaching methods for students.

To begin planning, decide if students should own or share a device. Consider upgrading the network (both Wi-Fi and hardline) and configuring web-filtering services. In addition, your roadmap should include a two-year strategy and cover additional important steps such as: training, procurement, support services, mobile device management and security, secure content sharing and mobile learning materials.

Most schools will also want to integrate notification services and develop further mobile applications to fully utilize the potential of the devices. With most families owning smart devices, having a plan to support and share educational materials beyond the classroom and including personal devices will enable further adoption and parental interaction. This all may sound like a large ‘bite out of the apple’ for some schools. According to Crystal Montvid, CDW Solution Architect, “For a successful mobile learning experience, each of the following aspects must be thought through.”

  1. Planning — Identify the necessary stakeholders. Define the purpose, use cases, and goals for your deployment. Keep those points in mind when devising your short-term and long-term plan. Is your wireless network ready to handle your deployment? Do you have a management platform? What will the end user experience look like for each user type? A solid plan can ensure a smooth deployment and higher rate of adoption.
  2. Procurement — Your deployment is likely to have a mix of devices to address each type of end user. Work with a partner who can procure a variety of devices like tablets and laptops, cellular devices, mobile routers and your device management software.
  3. Training — Bringing in new software, devices and services to your organization means your staff and end-users will be learning new technology and processes. A well-trained IT staff can ensure a smooth deployment, but more importantly training end-users can increase the rate of adoption and usage of devices. Are your teachers building technology into their lesson plans, or is it an afterthought? Do your students see the technology as a toy or tool for productivity?
  4. Mobile Device Management, Application Management and Content Management — While there are numerous options out there for device, application, and content management, very few vendors have specifically built their product to meet the unique needs of education. The most successful deployments often use a suite from a single vendor to provide a seamless and centralized management experience for these services. Providing localized management for applications and content is critical to provide efficient use of technology in the curriculum.
  5. Mobile Learning Materials and Content — Educators are the experts in content creation and curriculum resources, but is your content management solution proprietary? Ensuring your content management solution can distribute materials from numerous resources provides your educators with more flexibility and variety in the classroom and enriches the student learning experience.
  6. Mobile Applications — Let your educators explore and test applications for you. Empower them with the ability to distribute applications as needed to students with localized application management. Pull reports from your devices to see what applications are installed and utilized the most. Use this information to encourage collaboration between departments and teachers to identify the best applications for your learning environments.
  7. Beyond the Classroom — Are you empowering your students to access their digital classroom content from home? What about while on the bus; not just to and from home but on field trips or traveling for extracurricular activities? Do you have a plan in place for students without Internet access at home? Your students have an expectation of being connected wherever and whenever and providing access to the classroom can increase retention and success.
  8. Parent Engagement and Notification — How are you engaging the parents in students’ daily activities? Are you providing parents digital access to class schedules, homework, sporting events, teacher contact information and other news and events? From mobile optimized websites to custom-built district applications, getting parents involved increases the chances of success for students.
  9. Support Services — Once you have deployed, who do your end-users call for support? Is your support desk set up to handle the additional calls? Are your teachers and staff empowered with self-service to handle low level student support? Addressing the potential increase of needed support directly affects the long term sustainability of your mobile deployment.

For more TCEA coverage, check out EdTech