44 percent of elementary students using smartphones, and other surprising tech trends

Children, Education, Family/Kids, Technology

Students heading back to school this fall can expect to use technology in the classroom more than ever before. For the past few years, Pearson PLC has conducted an annual study to gather data on students’ current usage of mobile devices in education, their attitudes about it and what they’d like to use more in the future.

The Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2014, conducted online by Harris Poll for Pearson, surveyed 2,252 students in February and March 2014. Survey respondents were divided by school level, with 501 participants enrolled in elementary school, 750 in middle school and 1,001 in high school. A little over half, or 51 percent, of those surveyed were male, and the rest were female. Students reported race as follows: 60 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black/African American and 8 percent other. The majority of schools students attended were public (85 percent), with the rest private or parochial (9 percent) or at home (6 percent).

Some major findings are summarized below.

Attitudes and beliefs

Students already frequently use technology for learning, and they want to use it more. The majority of elementary school students (71 percent) want to use mobile devices in the classroom more than they already do. In addition, their desire to use classroom technology exceeds that of high school students, 56 percent of whom desire more high-tech classroom environments. Across all grades, only 8 to 9 percent of students want to use mobile devices less than they do now.

Students don’t want to carry textbooks. Overall, 82 percent of students agree with the following statement: “I would like to use digital textbooks instead of traditional print textbooks so that I wouldn’t have to carry so much on my back.” 

Students think they know more about mobile devices than their teachers. Students were asked whether they agree with the following statement: “I know more than my teachers about how to use tablets and other computers for learning.” More than half of students across grades agreed, with 56 percent of elementary schoolers, 65 percent of middle schoolers and 75 percent of high schoolers accepting that statement as true. 

Smartphones and tablets

The number of smartphones used for education is rising. Last year, 35 percent of elementary school students used smartphones compared to 44 percent this year. For middle schoolers, that number rose from 47 percent in 2013 to 58 percent this year. The increase, from 60 to 75 percent, was greatest for high school students.

The number of tablets is rising, too. Last year, 52 percent of elementary school students used tablets compared to 66 percent this year. Middle schoolers saw an increase from 43 to 58 percent. The change was smallest for high schoolers, whose tablet usage increased from 33 to 42 percent.

Students are loving tablets. The vast majority of students (90 percent) think that tablets will change how students learn. Nearly the same amount (89 percent) think tablets make learning more fun. They also believe that tablets are effective teaching tools; 79 percent agree that using tablets helps them perform better.

Laptops and hybrids

Laptops still beat out smartphones and tablets. Among all students, 80 percent have used a laptop or notebook to do schoolwork at least once, compared with 49 percent who have ever used a tablet and 47 percent who have ever used a smartphone.

Hybrids are not currently popular but may be next year. While laptops are the most-used mobile devices, hybrids, or devices that combine elements of tablets and laptops by using a tablet-like screen that snaps to a separate keyboard, are the least-used devices. Only 11 percent of students report ever having used a hybrid to do school work. That may change in the 2014-2015 school year, however. Around one in three students (32 percent) say they want to use a hybrid “a great deal.”

Access to devices and to the Internet

Majority of students have Wi-Fi access at home and at school. Perhaps surprisingly, more students report having wireless access to the Internet at home (93 percent) than at school (62 percent). The number of students with Wi-Fi at home is steady at an average of 93 percent across all grades, while the number of students with Wi-Fi at school rises with age. Only 47 percent of elementary school students have Wi-Fi access at school, compared to 60 percent of middle schoolers and 71 percent of high schoolers.

Most students use their school’s devices. Only 12 percent of students report having a “bring your own device,” or BYOD, policy at school, with the remaining students using school-provided technology. Half the students surveyed agree that it’s either “extremely important” or “very important” for their school to provide every student with a laptop or tablet, but only 16 percent of students attend schools that do.

Check out the full report for more details and interpretation, including differences between students of different genders and races.

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