For many educational institutions across Europe, the use of mobile technology in the classroom has become commonplace. Throughout the past decade, there has been a real shift from the use of desktop computers to embracing BYOD and the integration of mobile apps into learning delivery.

According to the Spring 2015 Global Attitude Survey by Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership is growing around the world and across Europe. Germany is in the lead with over 92% of people aged between 18 and 34 reported owning a device, with UK and Spain right behind (91%), followed by Italy (88%) and France (85%).

It comes with no surprise then that students in higher education are now connecting as part of their university experience and institutions are delving deeper into the many ways of improving student engagement brought by mobile.  Students are now able to customise classroom apps to organise tasks according to what is most important to them. Online discussion boards, that can be accessed via mobile, keep students connected with peers and instructors and send out notifications of grades and announcements – and save valuable student time.  An added benefit, perhaps, is the fun factor; many universities are integrating tests into their mobile systems, meaning that students can complete them in quick and digestible ways whilst on the move.

Ultimately, students engaging with the university through their own devices takes interactive teaching and learning to a new level, giving students and educators access to their courses, content and organisations in their preferred manner. Over the next years, we will see more education content created specifically for use on a wide range of mobile platforms. And as more schools start to adopt mobile technology into their curriculum, we will start to see allowances change about what is and is not acceptable for classroom use.

Access to mobile technology does not solely make it successful. Establishments still face the challenge of how to use mobile to maximise student success and outcomes, and how to handle the potential distraction.

Technology integration comes hand in hand with possible disruption, in education as much as in the workplace.  Some basics, like the distraction of phones ringing during classes or lectures, can be resolved by putting policies in place.  But students multi-tasking with social media are harder to control and there’s been concern about using own devices to access information during assessments.  Some teachers are unhappy about the laptop screens providing a wall between the students and the teachers and worry that students will slip into a passive listening mode as they type their notes, barely looking up from their screens.

Harvard professor Eric Mazur, feels that the worriers just haven’t embraced the opportunities BYOD brings to the teachers.  He says that laptops and smart phones don’t cause more distraction than windows through which students look at birds and flowers, but no one suggests blocking up the windows to keep the students engaged.  Students use their own devises to organize their lives, academic as well as personal.  And they’ll eventually be using devices as part of their professional activities, with and without distraction.  It’s the way of the world nowadays.  The challenge for teaching staff is to make the learning as interactive as possible and take advantage of what this new mobile environment allows them as educators.

The classroom will increasingly become space for practice, debate and to expand upon information that has been self-studied.  The idea is to encourage higher education students to experiment during the time they spend together as a group, making use of the multiple ideas that are shared once they have a base-level of understanding around the subject. In this scenario, students’ own device will enable new opportunities for learners to interact, both with teachers and their peers.

At the same time, a BYOD policy will help institutions maintain the overall costs at bay. While they will need to provide a reliable infrastructure and network connection, they do not have to keep up with an ever-evolving consumer tech industry to give students the latest devices.

It is clear then that BYOD is happening now and is here to stay, but where do we go from here?  Europe’s universities are already changing how they develop courses and the way they deliver lectures in order to engage with learners through the student’s own technology. In the UK, the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) conducted a survey, real-time with over 3,600 students to capture ‘Mobile Moments,’ the brief windows (~30 seconds) in which students complete small tasks pertaining to their studies, while using a mobile device.  The results were intriguing and showed that students clearly desire flexibility from their hardware and software.

Europe’s student body has grown up within the digital age. Their devices are a big part of their lives and educators need to embrace that going forward.

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