Student Mobile Device Usage Outpacing School Tech Programs, Survey Finds

By Benjamin Herold — September 08, 2014 3 min read
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A growing number of students regularly use laptops, tablets, and smartphones for schoolwork, but just one in six U.S. students attends a school that provides all student with their own such mobile device.

Mobile Device Usage For School Work | Create Infographics

How Do Schools Provide Devices to Their Students? | Create Infographics

The results are part of a newly released study from Pearson, an educational publisher with headquarters in London and New York City. The study is based on a survey of 2,252 public, private, and home-schooled students in grades 5-12 during February and March of 2013.

“While we are seeing consistent growth of mobile device use among students for school work, a gap still exists between home and school access, preventing many schools from taking full advantage of the digital learning technologies available today,” said Douglas Kubach, the president of Pearson’s school group, in a statement released by the company.

The survey shows divergent trends in the types of devices favored by elementary, middle and high school students.

Perhaps not surprisingly, younger students use tablets more frequently than older students: Nearly two-thirds of elementary students use such a device regularly, compared to just 42 percent of high school students., who are far more likely to own and regularly use smartphones.

When it comes to doing schoolwork, 86 percent of high school students use a laptop, notebook, or Chromebook at least a few times per month, compared with 77 percent of middle school students and 72 percent of elementary students. Sixty-two percent of high school students use smartphones for schoolwork at least a few times per month, compared to 40 percent of middle school students and 28 percent of elementary school students.

Student usage of mobile devices at school is high, with two-thirds of students using a laptop/notebook/Chromebook, smartphone or tablet on a daily basis.

But the most common venue for such technology usage remains the central computer lab, followed closely by shared in-class sets of devices. That’s especially true for elementary students, 74 percent of whom said labs or in-class sets are how they access school devices, compared to 62 percent of middle school students and 55 percent of high school students.

For districts considering big device purchases and 1-to-1 programs, it often presents a challenge to balance decisions about what technology works best for which students with practical considerations around cost, ease of maintenance and updating, and standardization of training and professional development.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, has been in the headlines constantly in recent weeks, in part because of growing questions about how district leaders there came to decide iPads were the right device for all 651,000 students in the country’s second-largest school system. Pearson is involved in that effort as a subcontractor, providing a K-12 digital curriculum that is meant to come pre-loaded on all the devices distributed to students, but has run into criticism for being rolled out despite consisting of only a few sample lessons per grade.

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The Pearson study was conducted by Harris Poll.

The last name of Douglas Kubach mas misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.