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An exploration of how mobile computing has become a cultivator of change in education for those who choose to accept it

By Candice Taubner

With the quest for knowledge at our heels and technology advancement exponentially soaring, it is easy to see why we must move with it, or be left behind. Today, it is no longer about providing “basic productivity computing capability” (McPherson in Campbell et al, 2013, p. 7), instead, it is about vividly changing the ways people gather information and problem solve. The majority of research about ‘bring your own device’ and ‘mobile computing’ derives from the last three years, all with an overwhelming concurrence that ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) is the way of the future in business, industry, and education. In particular, education has suddenly changed from a world of disciplines to an “infosphere” (Molnar, 1997, p. 10) where knowledge is, literally, in the palm of our hands. In the classroom, today’s students want to learn using the knowledge, skills and tools (Cardoza & Tunks, 2014, p. 1) that our globalised society forces them to learn outside the classroom. BYOD is one tool that empowers consumerization of IT ; instead nurtures technology use and learning; supports infrastructure; and cultivates positive change in education. However, many educational institutions still teach traditionally (Lee & Finger, 2010).

Where it all began
Whilst mobile computing seems to have boomed recently, it actually traces back to 1984 when Guglielmo Marconi produced the first radio waves over long distance, (Johnson, Twilley, Zhang, Zhou & Wu, 2014), followed a short while later in 1902 with the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal, officially marking the beginning of personal and mobile computing. This sparked the interest of AT&T Bell Labs decades later in 1947 (Johnson et al, 2014), encouraging them to develop the idea of a ‘cellular phone’, arguably, a technological revolution. At this time, colour television and the microwave oven were also invented (The People History, 2010), and children were being educated with paper and pen. By 1958, we had the first wireless network, and visionaries Motorola invented the first mobile phone handset by 1973 (Johnson et al, 2014). Synchronously, innovators Intel developed the first microprocessor (Oxford, 2010) propelling the evolution of the home computer. So, just three decades after the 1940s revolution, we also had email, genetic engineering, laser printers (The People History, 2010), and teaching and learning still occurred with paper, pen and, in some lucky cases, the Apple 1 or IBM PC (Murdock, 2013).

The innovation of these influential inventors was the catalyst for a mobile computing revolution, brought into fruition by AT&T’s cellular mobile network that was made available globally in 1983 (Johnson et al, 2014), resulting in 12,000 cellular phone sales in its first year (Wolpin, 2014). Concurrently, the ‘idea’ of personal devices divulged with IBM coining the term ‘personal computer’ in 1981 ; and, Clive Sinclair launching the personal game and program designing chip computer, the ZX Spectrum (Oxford, 2009). Further advancement included virtual offices and VPN in the 1990s (Core Digital Works, 2015), foreseeing a trend that would soon reach mobile devices. Throughout the next two decades, cellular phone sales increased rapidly, reaching over 100 million by 2002 (Gow & Smith, 2006, p. 52). Arguably the beginning of the more recent exponential growth in mobile computing, however, can be attributed to the release of the ground breaking Apple iPhone and iOS operating system in 2007 (Johnson et al, 2012), which by 2013 reached 250 million users (Okoye, 2013) worldwide. Cut to 2014, and 1 in every 5 people globally have a smartphone (Huggestuen, 2014). Finally, we have reached a “scientific information explosion of unprecedented proportions” (Molnar, 1997, p. 1), of which our paper-based system of knowledge cannot accommodate (Weinburger, 2011). Indeed, the world has become “far, far too big to know” (Weinburger, 2011, p. 12) without technology.

A catalyst for change
The link to history is this: like a domino effect, with the rapid changes in mobile computing, came almost paralleled changes in society. When email and cellular devices were invented people started communication outside their home and outside themselves. Information became ubiquitous, readily available and exponentially more. Now, we are in the “age of mobilism” (Norris & Soloway, 2011, p. 12), that is truly defined by “what technology wants” (Kelly in Wu, 2014), where the devices we use alter how we live much faster than any contest among genes, practically “redefining what it means to be human” (Wu, 2014, p. 1). Interesting, as Wu states (2014):
“Technology is a self-evolution that is driven by what we want as opposed to what is adaptive. For most of us, our technological identities are determined by what companies decide to sell based on what they believe… consumers will pay for” (p. 2).
Technology parallels life in that it wants increased efficiency, increased opportunity, increased evolvability (Kelly in Wu, 2014), with abundant and undeniable evidence that the “future of learning and work is digital” (Costa, 2012, p. 54). Yet, the printed page and the ink pen still forms the foundation of learning for many industries (Costa, 2014), as it did in 1940s.

One such industry is education. Education is inherently about preparing children for the modern world (Molnar, 1997), yet as Lee & Finger (2010) argue, whilst some trail blazing educational institutions do exist, the vast majority of the world’s schools “continue in their traditional form, still heavily reliant on paper-based technologies” (p. 4). Schools today are “technologically poor when compared to non-school environments” (Bigum, 2012, p. 12), leaving students longing to learn with today’s tools (Cardoza & Tunks, 2014). A 2009 study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development showed that while 96% of Australian students had a computer at home, only 23% used a computer at school ‘almost every day’ (Lee & Finger, 2010), a clear indication of the widening divide (Bigum, 2012; Lee & Finger, 2010) between home and school. Wagner (2008) notes that if traditional teaching and learning continues, students’ today will “be lost in an endless web of fantasy and entertainment” instead of “using their skills with these new technologies to make significant contributions” (p. 187). In some cases, recent change in education can be attributed to the ‘bring your own device’ and consumerisation of IT phenomenon, of whose broad research is positive and stems from its advocacy by enterprise companies.

The new trend: ‘Consumerisation of IT’
Interestingly, the idea of the personal, mobile computing and ‘smart’ devices is much older than 2007 . In the 1970s, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte started exploring sensory computing (Negroponte, 2014) only to be told the idea was ridiculous. A decade later, in 1983, Apple founder Steve Jobs described mobile computing, pointing out that he would like to one day build a computer in a slate-like form-factor, much like the iPad (Campbell, 2012); but the speech was long forgotten, and the ideas with it. For most, it was simply fantasy. For some, however, it sparked thinking about what technology could do. Like Intel. Their steady propelling of technology advancement led to the first ‘bring your own device to work’ program in 2009, as they recognized numerous employees connecting their personal devices to the corporate network and in turn, discovered they had saved money and witnessed improved productivity (Information Security Media Group, 2015). Considered a trial, many companies ignored the feat and it wasn’t until 2011 that the term achieved prominence when IT services provider Unisys and software vendor Citrix Systems adopted the trend (PC World, 2011). By 2012, 80% of industry in the Middle East (Forward Edge, 2012) had adopted the trend, and in 2015, 60% of US and European enterprise companies have an established bring your own device program (Venture Beat, 2015). Now, knowledge has well and truly become personally networked.

‘Bring your own device’ in education
In response to the rise in popularity of personal mobile devices, laptops and tablets, an increasing number of colleges, universities and schools are requesting students bring their own technology (Violino, 2012) to class, in an attempt to alleviate the challenge of updating and maintaining technology (Cornwell, 2014; O’Keefe in Campbell et al, 2013) regularly. There are many views that promote the need for technology to learn. It is said that computers are “extensions of our very brains” (Campbell in Campbell et al, 2013); they expand the boundaries of learning (Raths, 2013); transform how students learn (Booth, 2013) promote trust and collaboration (Imakezi, 2014; Lee & Finger, 2010); and recognise the “demand for seamless movement between school, work, home and play” (Noosa District State High School, 2015). Imakezi makes the valid point that, if students are going to use the devices anyway, “why not ensure that some of that use is for learning?” (Imakezi, 2014, p. 245). Adopters of the BYOD program have commented that it reduces costs (Ackerman & Krupp, 2012; Lee & Winzenried, 2009; Raths, 2013), minimizes the need for schools to purchase bulk technology that will get minimal use (Lee & Winzenried, 2009); promises faster and easier access to resources, increased productivity and enhanced collaboration among students and staff (Raths, 2013; Violino, 2012); it forces students to be technology agents, as opposed to technology parrots (Campbell in Campbell et al, 2013) and indicates the commitment to the meaningful learner individuation that we profess to desire in our democratic society (Campbell in Campbell, 2013, p. 3). Additionally, as Imakezi (2014) has experienced, it doesn’t require hardware, only internet; students can independently work anywhere, at any time (Raths, 2013); there is low commitment for teachers; it is shown to increase student achievement, engagement and motivation and attitude (Cornwell, 2014; Dunleavy & Heinecke, 2007; Song, 2013) and devices today are affordable, easy-to-use and readily accessible (Dahlstorm & diFilipo, 2013). Finally, Nielsen (in Raths, 2013) usefully notes that when students bring their own technology to the classroom, they update the systems and applications significantly faster than the district and school can. In an environment where budget, resourcing and student engagement are issues, bring your own device could be a solution.

On the other hand, there are an overwhelming number of concerns from administrators and educators alike that whilst BYOD is changing the teaching and learning process, there are significant issues that hinder its success. At this time, the focus of BYOD is mostly about getting the technology in the classroom, and having students engage with it and trusting students to use it. The biggest concerns voiced are privacy, security and network capacity (Campbell et al, 2013; Cornwell, 2014; Violino, 2012), leading to paralysing fear, uncertainty and doubt (Campbell et al, 2013) and, consequently, little to no strategic change. Sensitive information from both the personal device and the school network can go astray (Fitch in Campbell et al, 2013; Markelj & Bernik, 2012), forcing institutions to determine how they will manage and control personal devices (Cornwell, 2014; Green, 2007; Violino, 2012). Security is also an issue with devices being targeted daily by malware, phishing, spyware and identity theft (Jones, Chin & Aiken, 2014). It is important to remember, however, that privacy and security risks are still present with the usual department technology (Fitch in Campbell et al, 2013). Possible solutions for privacy and security concerns include registering the devices on the school’s network (Emery, 2012; Ullman, 2012; Violino, 2012); updating software, privacy settings and passwords regularly (Emery, 2012; Johnson et al, 2014; Markelj & Bernik, 2012; Wittman, 2011); user education (Mansfield-Devine, 2012; Wittman, 2011); setting up a guest or VPN network (Cornwell, 2014; Emery, 2012; Raths, 2012); downloading security and GPS software (Schaffhauser, 2011); and setting network restrictions (Johnson et al, 2014) including secure certificates when user authentication is required and implementation of data encryption and decryption (Markelj & Bernik, 2012). Network capacity is another prominent issue with a high demand on power supply and bandwidth (Campbell in Campbell et al, 2013). Common concerns include lack of access points for wireless internet (Violino, 2012); minimal wireless coverage (Ullman, 2012); and ability to support so many devices (Cornwell, 2014). Neglected in the research is the point that whilst network capacity is a preliminary issue, the minimisation of cost from no longer purchasing devices would provide enough funding for the increase in network bandwidth or additional wireless access points or networks.

Another significantly voiced concern is that of equity (Booth, 2013; Imakezi, 2014; Schaffhauser, 2011), as not all students are able to afford their own device or to frequently update their device. Some institutions have overcome this by offering financial aid (Booth, 2013); offering leased devices or receiving device through a bond package (Cardoza & Tunks, 2014; Schaffhauser, 2011; Ullman, 2012); or diverting of previously purchased devices (Schaffhauser, 2011). Angst has also arisen from teachers about their lack of knowledge of devices and lack of desire to learn about them (Campbell in Campbell et al, 2013), as administrators and learners vie to be the best (German in Campbell et al, 2013). Mansfield-Devine (2012) recognises this issue, noting that students are commonly more knowledgeable about their device and therefore become the expert. Contrastingly, Cardoza & Tunks (2014) argue that teachers who lack the knowledge have difficulty integrating the technology and creating rich tasks and are therefore exposed. Cornwell (2014) also notes that the problem will only further divulge; teachers need time to get comfortable. In saying this, with rapid changes in pedagogy and resourcing that naturally occur in education, technology change seems to fall in line with school’s frequent overhaul. Teachers, whilst resistant, are used to change and are adaptable.

Other relevant concerns are that personal technology will be a distraction (Cornwell, 2014; Green, 2007; Imakezi, 2014) and students do not have an appropriate “use my own device” attitude for mobile learning (Ada, 2015, p. 1), however Imakezi (2014) states that whilst “cell phone distractions are simply the 21st century version of passing notes and doodling (p. 245)” by trusting and treating students like adults, keeping them engaged, and providing time limits students will be less distracted. Also, the devices will not be on a shared network, be able to access network data or storage, and collaboration across differing devices is difficult. Several schools have found solutions to this by using device-neutral platforms such as Google Apps and Moodle (Raths, 2013; Ullman, 2013); using cloud-based storage such as My Big Campus (Raths, 2013); creating discussion boards on Blackboard Mobile (Raths, 2013), EduBlogs, Wikispaces, Socrative, Edmodo (Cornwell, 2013) and VoiceThread (Raths, 2013). Other networked connectivity tools included Cloudpath (Violino, 2012) and Vmware View (Raths, 2013). There is also doubt that the devices will be used effectively, with teachers purely using them for reading e-textbooks or reading out loud and students using them as USBs, music players and for gaming (Cardoza & Tunks, 2014), however some schools have documented that if students are engaged in targeted activities this will be alleviated (Imakezi, 2014). Finally, there is a concern that when technology fails, teachers could revert to pen and paper and lose confidence in technology use (Imakezi, 2014; Raths, 2013). Whilst there are many concerns about implementation of a BYOD program, these problems have been actively solved and concerns have been met by those who realise this as their future and the future of education.

Where to from here
It is undeniably clear from the little research about ‘failed’ BYOD programs, of which causes include lack of communication, insufficient bandwidth (Cornwell, 2014); integration of technology into existing routines, and lack of equity (Booth, 2013), that those who have taken the leap and implemented it, are maintaining it. Additionally, innovators are making suggestions to others about how to implement or improve a BYOB program, including committing to a two year start up (Cornwell, 2014); developing policies and contacts for use, support, management for teachers, students and parents (Emery, 2012; Green, 2007; Jones, Chin & Aiken, 2014; Violino, 2012; Wittman, 2011); and developing strong mechanisms for security, privacy, and network capacity (Markelj & Bernik, 2012; Violino, 2012). In addition, companies such as Intel, Microsoft as well as the New South Wales Government have created briefing papers and implementation guides specifically for education based on their own experiences. So whilst it may not be a perfect program, BYOD is changing how teachers teach and how students learn, paralleling how technology is advancing and society is developing. Campbell (2013) predicts that our forthcoming obsession with wearable computing, might soon become neurological implants (in Campbell et al, 2013). Adrian Cockcroft (in Campbell at al, 2013) predicts “a day when we will carry web servers in our pockets, connecting wirelessly to the cloud; bringing our own networks in to each learning environment” (p. 3). Negroponte (2014) predicts that very soon we will swallow a pill and immediately have all the knowledge we need. All of these predictions can be attributed to the notion that we are undoubtedly moving forward: continuously and fast. So whilst some schools are on board with the future, others are still lagging behind, forcing students to learn against what society teaches them. Bring your own device is just one possible idea or solution to create global citizens, but what is abundantly clear is that something has to cultivate the change so desperately needed in schools, otherwise education can no longer be the catalyst for progression that it has always been.


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