Research Analysis: The Increasing Demand for Collaborative Mobile Learning Technology

By Kavitta Ghai, March 16, 2019

The Goldman School of Public Policy states that the more students a teacher is responsible for, the harder it is to teach. In addition, their research analysis concluded that smaller class sizes improved grades for younger learners. However, California’s class size cap significantly grew following the latest recession. Similarly for higher education, a study published in the Journal of Applied Public Economics cited that while the amount of hours of contact between student and instructor has barely changed over the past 50 years, class sizes have seen a significant increase. As class sizes go up, student engagement has been shown to decrease as a result. This is an issue both for K-12 and higher education, alike. At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a study on the role of instructional factors that can contribute to student engagement showed the following: course engagement was more likely to occur in small classes, discussion classes, and classes where the instructor was responsive to student questions. In addition, the most successful classes were those in which instructors assigned effective aids for learning, encouraged students to seek assistance and knew most of the students’ names. It was also found that emotional engagement and participation engagement were greater for intrinsically motivated students. Their research stated that this need for support extended outside of the classroom, citing that a supportive campus environment refers to students’ perceptions of whether their particular institution places value on students’ engaging in supportive interactions with others. The University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence cited that in large, crowded, undergraduate classes students can feel anonymous, passive, unmotivated, and isolated. They go on to state that feeling a sense of community at school is associated with increased motivation, greater enjoyment of class, improved conflict resolution skills, and more effective learning. Instructors must assist in fostering this sense of community within their classroom so that their students can develop social support, peer acceptance, and camaraderie, all of which are critical skills that are not often enough highlighted in teaching standards. Achieving an effective classroom community must be done through boosting instructor social presence, as well as increasing student interactions at the student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content levels.

An ongoing study across the University of California system reports that students bring 2-3 devices to class, 100% of 18-29 year olds own a cellphone and 94% own a smartphone (PEW Research Center, 2018), reflecting ubiquitous mobile device ownership among university-aged students across the U.S. They state that due to the surge of personal devices, campus infrastructure is increasing capacity to rapidly meet demands for wireless access, and instructors are using mobile learning to push classroom boundaries within and beyond the traditional learning environment. Their research suggests that utilizing mobile learning in the classroom can lend to a more productive educational environment and connect students, TA’s, and instructors in ways not possible before. It is imperative that we take into consideration these statistics regarding mobile devices and their benefit when developing new technology for schools. In this year’s Educause Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, over 40,000 students were surveyed on their use of technology in the classroom. The majority of students agreed that their instructors typically use tech to engage them in the learning process (66%), use technology to enhance learning with additional materials (67%), and encourage the use of online tools to communicate/collaborate with the instructor or students in or outside class (62%); these responses were consistent across institution type and size. However, only 40% of students reported that instructors encouraged them to use their own devices during class to deepen learning. The research states that these numbers have been slow to move over the past year, indicating that instructors are hesitant to allow tech in their class, a claim that is supported by 50% of faculty stating that they banned smartphones in their classroom. However, students are using their own devices for their education now more than ever, especially as all of their resources and data have moved online through the widespread adoption of LMS and the cost-effectiveness of online textbooks. This ban is a serious cause for concern, as data suggests that policies that discourage or ban the use of technology in class may disproportionately impact underrepresented groups (such as students with disabilities, students of color, and first-generation students), as these students attributed significantly greater levels of importance to their mobile devices for their academics. Classroom policies that allow disabled students to be an exception to these policies effectively force those students to disclose their disability to their peers, as noted by one student who said "If students with learning disabilities are the only ones allowed to have a computer, then it makes it clear to the rest of the class that they are different. Teachers need to allow technology for all students, regardless of their personal beliefs about how students should be learning." Furthermore, banning technology is shown to have a negative impact on student engagement with course content. Research states that students in introductory psychology courses where technology is banned reported significantly lower levels of engagement than did their peers in the same courses where technology was permitted. On the flipside, technology has been repeatedly proven to enrich student experience, and Educause encourages campus’ to provide faculty workshops to teach instructors how to integrate tech in a way that fulfills their educational objectives. The study concludes that the intentional use of tech can make learning visible and give instructors an opportunity to practice "agile teaching," through which they can capture student thinking and respond to the needs of learners in the moment. It is important to meet students where they are by providing tools that reflect the latest technology that they are accustomed to using, and understand how this can enhance rather than hinder both the student and instructor experience.

In conclusion, we are facing a massive issue in terms of growing class sizes across all education institutions, which is leading to a descent in student engagement and thus a well-rounded education. Students are asking for a solution in the form of technology, specifically mobile, that allows them to gain more value from their educational experience both in and out of the classroom. While research is in favor of using technology that supports educational outcomes, classroom bans on personal tech use can be a severe hindrance to student inclusivity and course engagement. Faculty must be informed of how mobile technology can be a catalyst to deeper and more enriched learning, while administrators must be provided with rigorous external research that allows them to make informed purchasing decisions on these technologies. It is crucial that arising ed-tech tools in the market research the specific and current problems that students are facing, and develop subsequent solutions that reflect modern tech that students find comfortable and accessible through their personal devices. By adapting existing technology to an educational setting, we can provide a familiar and all-inclusive experience for students of all ages and backgrounds. It may not be possible to decrease class sizes, but it is possible to make the classroom feel smaller through the use of modern technology.


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