Is mobile technology in the classroom bad for students’ social, emotional and personal development? Is there an “App Gap” holding low-income children back? Is digital inequality a serious social disadvantage? In April 2015, separate research studies gave some answers to those questions.

Teacher attitudes are crucial to the success of high-tech initiatives. Teachers are the people who will revolutionize schools. Technology is just a starting point. We should know what teachers think.”

The above quote is from an April 17, 2015 ScienceDaily article from Boston College, Devices or divisive: Mobile technology in the classroom.  The article notes that “Schools around the world spent $13 billion — including $4 billion in the U.S. — on K-12 classroom technology in 2013 and total spending is slated to grow to $19 billion by 2018, according to Futuresource Consulting.”

The Boston College researchers designed a survey tool to measure views on the effects of digital technology, surveying 59 educators at a “1:1” Catholic high school (one digital device to one child ), where each student is required to bring a smart phone, iPad or laptop. They report that “Although teachers were mostly positive about the impact of technology on classroom learning, they also had concerns about the impact of mobile technologies on students’ non-cognitive skills, such as empathy, self-control, problem solving and teamwork.”

A separate study is reported in an April 10, 2015 ScienceDaily article Kindergartners who shared iPads in class scored higher on achievement tests. The article notes that “Using tech, like iPads, in schools has turned into a heated political debate. Los Angeles infamously spent $1.3 billion on a program to give iPads to each student that has subsequently been plagued with problems. In the United Kingdom the head of the National Association of Head Teachers claimed he was dubious about using tech as a teaching aid in non-IT classes. One solution could be using shared tech in classrooms.”

The report, from the International Communication Association, gives the findings of research by Courtney Blackwell from Northwestern University. The research was carried out by working  with 352 students at a Midwestern suburban school district that was phasing in 1:1 iPads into their kindergarten classrooms. This created “ a natural experiment where classrooms in one school had 1:1 iPads; classrooms in a second school had 23 iPads to share, where kids primarily used them in pairs; and classrooms in a third school had no iPads.”

Results showed that shared iPad students scored approximately 30 points higher than 1:1 iPad students and non-iPad users.

Another study reporting encouraging results appears in an April 19, 2015 ScienceDaily article from New York University, Literacy app improves school readiness in at-risk pre-schoolers. “Guided use of an educational app may be a source of motivation and engagement for children in their early years. The purpose of our study was to examine if a motivating app could accelerate children’s learning, which it did”  says the study’s author.

The article quotes a recent study which shows that  49 percent of middle class children reported downloading an app, 80 percent of which were educational, while only 30 percent of low-income children downloaded an app, 57 percent of which were educational. This “app gap” was the focus of the current research. The researchers designed a study to examine the effectiveness of an educational app called Learn with Homer on low-income preschoolers’ school readiness skills.

The study was conducted in 10 Head Start classrooms with a total of 148 preschoolers. The researchers measured changes in children’s phonological awareness, the ability to detect sounds that make up words, which is an important predictor of later reading ability. They found “measurable growth in phonological awareness and understanding the connections between speech and printed letters for the group using the Learn with Homer app, compared with the group using the art and activity app. They also observed significant differences in print concepts.”

Again on the subject of the “App Gap”, but from a wider social perspective, comes Social consequences of digital inequality,  an April 9, 2015 ScienceDaily article from Taylor & Francis.  New research by an international team of scholars shows that “Those who function better in the digital realm and participate more fully in digitally mediated social life enjoy advantages over their digitally disadvantaged counterparts — a key linkage which social science is only beginning to grasp.”

Examples of disadvantage include “the roll-out of Obamacare in the United States. Despite its website being intended as the primary source of programme information for all Americans, design issues made it difficult to navigate and use for people with slow connections or smartphones; just 1% of the millions of people who visited the site during its first week managed to register.”

Taylor & Francis recommends the article as “essential reading for anyone set on reducing inequality in our society, including policymakers, social scientists, and with only weeks to go until the general election, even politicians.”

In Australia we could say “particularly politicians.”