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Students' Mobile Device Use and Frustrations Reflected in Survey

The number of students using smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices continues to climb, but so have the frustations of students over the restrictions that schools place on their ability to use those technologies, a new survey shows.

The results, published by Project Tomorrow as part of its nationwide "Speak Up" survey, show that the number of middle school students using smartphones has jumped from 24 percent in 2008 to 65 percent today, while similar increases are playing out at the high school level too.

In addition, the number of students with tablets has also risen. In 2011, 26 percent of students in grades 6-8 said they had a personal tablet, but that number has now soared to 52 percent, according to Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit group based in Irvine, Calif., that seeks to improve students' academic preparation through technology and other strategies.

The survey is its tenth year, and the most recent version of it was conducted in the fall of 2012. Project Tomorrow says that it surveyed more than 364,000 K-12 students, nearly 40,000 parents, 54,000 teachers, and 1,600 administrators, among others, in what it calls "the largest collection of authentic, unfiltered stakeholder voices on digital learning." Project Tomorrow released an earlier batch of findings from its survey a few months ago.

The survey also asked students about their frustrations in using technology at schools. Perhaps not surprisingly, back in 2003, the most common source of aggravation was that the Internet was too slow, followed in order by gripes about school filters and firewalls blocking information, not having enough computers to use, computers that were too old, and software that was too old.

Today, complaints about Internet speed didn't make the list. Filters and firewalls were students' top frustration, followed by not being able to access social media sites, not being allowed to use their own mobile devices, too many rules about technology at schools, and not being allowed to use text messaging.

(Students' lack of concern about slow Internet speed is intriguing on one level, given the interest in improving schools' tech capabilities and Internet speed, specifically. President Obama last week called for revamping the E-rate to help give schools faster connectivity. Of course, it also seems likely that the survey doesn't tell the whole picture. It wouldn't reflect teachers' or administrators' frustration at lesson plans or tests being disrupted by slow or unreliable Internet connections, for instance.)

The survey shows an interesting divide in how often teachers assign Internet-based homework, versus how how often students turn to the Web to complete it. While only 21 percent of secondary school teachers assign Web-based homework at least once a week, higher percentages of students—61 percent of 9th graders, for instance—use the Web to do their schoolwork:

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