Classroom Technology

Smartphones a Standard for Majority of Students by High School, Survey Finds

By Sean Cavanagh — May 02, 2013 3 min read
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A new nationwide survey reveals the extent to which mobile devices have become an inextricable part of students’ and families’ lives—while also indicating that parents see potential benefits, and drawbacks, to those technology tools.

By the time they enter high school, 51 percent of all students are carrying a smartphone to school with them every day, the survey of parents shows. Nearly a quarter of all students in K-12, overall, are doing so, while 8 percent of students in grades 3-5 are bringing a smartphone to school.

It’s unclear, however, whether that tech usage results in benefits for students during the school day. Just 16 percent of all K-12 parents say their children’s schools allow students to use family-owned devices in classrooms.

Nearly the same portion of parents, 17 percent, said their child’s school requires students to use at least one portable device or mobile device in school.

Those results suggest that “there are a significant portion of mobile devices that are just being turned off when students get to school, or are being used under the radar,” Peter Grunwald, the president of Grunwald Associates LLC, told Education Week. His organization conducted the survey of parents, in coordination with the Learning First Alliance.

The survey found that parents were largely optimistic about the potential academic benefits of mobile devices. But they were also cautious about the pitfalls that come with using those tools.

Large majorities of parents believe that mobile technologies and apps can “make learning fun,” teach basic tech skills, and encourage curiosity among students, the survey found. They also believe mobiles and apps have the potential to help children cultivate specific skills: 68 percent of parents surveyed, for instance, believe those tools can help teach reading skills, and the number was even higher, 79 percent, among parents of children in grades K-2.

Yet despite their belief that mobile devices have academic benefits, nearly 70 percent of the parents surveyed said the devices their children use regularly are solely for entertainment, while about 30 percent say those tools offer educational value. And 62 percent of parents said they believe mobile devices can be a distraction.

The survey was conducted by Grunwald Associates, a Bethesda, Md.-based research and consulting firm, in conjunction with the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 education associations, including the National PTA, American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers.

The results were based on a nationally representative survey of parents of children ages 3-18. Data about technology ownership and usage were collected from 2,392 parents, representing 4,164 children. From that larger sample, a core group of 925 parents completed the full survey. For that core group of parents, the margin of error for survey was about 3 percent.

One of the more intriguing findings is that parents had more favorable views of the learning benefits of mobile or portable devices, if their children’s schools required the use of those tools.

While Peter Grunwald told Education Week there was no way of knowing whether the schools’ requirements influenced parents’ views, watching educators incorporate digital learning into teaching “seems to color [parents’] perceptions about mobile learning in a positive way,” the report says.

Girls are more likely than boys to be users of mobile devices, by a margin of 75 percent to 69 percent, the survey found. They were also more likely to use tablets, by a margin of 39 percent to 30 percent, than boys, and e-readers, by a margin of 16 percent to 7 percent.

That finding was largely consistent with past surveys conducted by Grunwald on technology and communication devices, said Li Kramer Halpern, a senior analyst at the organization.

At home, children and families rely on many different technologies. Seventy-seven percent of families have a least one smartphone, and 46 percent own a tablet.

Parents of high-school-age children said their families were more likely to have portable computers, MP3 players and iPod Touches. But parents of children grades 3-5 were more likely to have games, tablets, and e-readers. Parents of prekindergarten-age children were most likely to own smartphones, it found. (See a more complete breakdown of family tech ownership below.)

The takeaway is that “family ownership of technology tracks with the stages of children’s development,” the authors say.

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