This year’s incoming college freshman would be hard pressed to remember a life without smartphones, as most of them were 10 years old when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. Of course, cell phones and Blackberries were in use long before then, but the lives of this cohort have been programmed for mobile, plain and simple.
Mobile technology is a way of life for these up-and-comers. It’s a technology that has proven effective in increasing student engagement, as a useful mechanism for micro-learning initiatives, and has produced the most efficient mode of communication known to teens and young adults: texting. The fact that mobile has transformed this generation’s communication landscape begs the question: How well are today’s colleges and universities adapting to mobile technologies?
Mobile and wireless technologies were the toast of the town as early as 2001, with early educational adopters salivating over a new crop of devices and opportunities. 1 This appetite for innovation continued to increase, as new and improved devices cropped up in the marketplace. 2
in 2014, Educause, a leading advocacy group for information technology in higher education, reported that 86% of undergraduate students owned a smartphone 3 They also stated that “despite high ownership, longitudinal data indicates that use of mobile technology in learning is not as widespread as the devices themselves”. They also suggest that “ownership does not have a direct relationship to proficiency” where it relates to utilizing a smartphone or tablet for educational purposes. The rub is that students use mobile phones and apps at an extremely high rate. In addition, Educause reported the following after surveying students:
What the data suggests is that while mobile devices are probably not the way for students to write a thesis paper, they are very effective in micro-learning and enhancing communication. The key is to get the pedagogical support in order to develop the proper content and encourage better utilization of the platform. In turn, this will help increase retention and graduation rates (2013 Digest of Education Statistics noted that nationally, on average, only 4 in 10 students were completing the degree program they had embarked upon) and the same Educause survey found that in 2014 only 19% of instructors required smartphone use. What is not in question, and what has been proven time and again, is the fact that improving communications between faculty and students improves student success. 4
In order to drive more effective use of the digital platforms at hand and engage students where they are (on their smartphone, thank you very much), then two things need to happen. First, micro-learning initiatives (eg. career planning milestones or skill training) need to be defined on campus. Further, we feel strongly that co-curricular involvement improves student engagement exponentially, since they will be directed to one system in order to facilitate many objectives. Secondly, the integration of mobile technologies with existing toolsets/platforms will lower the administrative burden to manage this new technology and create the best environment for programmatic success. At CareerPath®, we are constantly grappling with the best ways in which to integrate and leverage existing technology to ensure success of our mobile platform at our client schools. Additionally, technology budgets are extremely limited for these types of initiatives, which sometimes pushes the best solutions to the sidelines. In our experience, schools that are on the leading edge in leveraging the power of mobile technologies are shifting priorities in order to make this a reality.
Mobile technology is a powerful and readily available toolkit for enhancing student success—both in the classroom and in co-curricular activities. In general, institutions of higher education have not adapted to it en mass, and much more work is needed to match schools’ desired level of programatic completion with their students’ hope for academic and professional success. The good news is, solutions are available for bridging the divide between students and faculty/administration, and increasing the likelihood that the generation of students now entering college will defy the current trends. This will lead to improved graduation rates through engagement and mobile best practices.
1. Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, New York, Scribner, 2001
2. Chu, Hwang, & Kinshuk, 2010