Mobile Phones in the Classroom - Education Review Article
Mobile phones are devices that New Zealand teenagers,
along with teenagers across the globe, have been quick to adopt as an essential element of their lifestyle. In many cases, these phones are seen as a disruptive distraction to learning. Consequently, schools have been forced to create policies to deal with issues created by the mass adoption of the mobile phone by their students. However, as our education system moves towards teaching and learning which is enhanced by the use of new technologies, the New Zealand curriculum mandates that “schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 36). The possession of mobile phones by many of our students today might therefore be viewed as an opportunity to harness the learning potential of ICT that is readily available for use in the classroom.
My interest in mobile phone use in the classroom arose as a result of the successful implementation of eLearning strategies within my own ICT-rich English and Media Studies classroom. I wanted to consider the ways that students’ own mobile phones could be used to recreate a blended learning environment in those classrooms where ICT was not so readily accessible. This led to me conducting a research project for the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2008 where I worked with 3 teachers in exploring the ways that they could use a class-set of mobile phones to enhance the teaching and learning in their classrooms, particularly as a tool for accessing the internet. This research was sponsored by Vodafone New Zealand who supplied a class-set of mobile phones and unlimited calling, texting and internet access for the duration of the study.
Issues caused by student mobile phone use at school have been widely reported; from concerns over unacceptable social behaviours and txt-bullying, to problems with literacy and learning distractions. The trend at most New Zealand schools (both primary and secondary) is to ban mobile phones from the classroom and global studies show that New Zealand is not alone in this stance Mark Prensky (USA, 2004) and Mike Sharples (UK, 2005) also report similar findings. What is interesting however, is that research conducted in 2005 by Fielden & Malcom suggests that the majority of New Zealand schools have not based their policy on sound statistical data, nor considered in any great depth the potential for the use of mobile phones in the classroom. It seems somewhat ironic that while schools try to find extra funding to increase student and teacher access to ICT, the tool that many students already have in their pockets is overlooked and its use actively denied through restrictive school policy.
Throughout the course of my research we explored a great many tools and applications for mobile phones, in particular the ability to blend learning experiences from both inside and outside the classroom. However the area that my research specifically sought to explore was the impact ‘any-time’ access to information would have on the classroom. David Warlick asks on his blog; “what will we ask on our tests when students come in with Google in their pockets? Will they be better questions than we ask today?” Web-capable mobile phones allow users to both access and create the information which is shared on the Internet. My research explored the reality of making use of the mobile phone as a tool for accessing the Internet and the reaction of both teachers and their students to having ‘information on-demand’ or ‘Google in their pocket’.
The function of the mobile phones that students felt had the most potential value was the ability to access the internet. Students saw this as being useful in two main ways. First, they liked the ability to have personalised access to information that they wanted to look at and use, but secondly, they had access to the full, unfiltered internet. Students saw the biggest advantage in using the internet via the mobile phone being that sites were not blocked by the school system. One of the features most appreciated by Year 12 was the ability to view YouTube videos which were otherwise blocked at school. The mobile web browser OperaMini was installed on to the phones and was used by all students as the primary tool for accessing the internet.
It would be fair to say that never before have students had so much access to information and, while not everything you read on-line is accurate, the question must be asked how are we teaching our students to deal with this? Are students learning to cope with information overload and to become critical and discerning in their use of information? Hedley Beare (2002) has written extensively on the future of schooling. He states that it is ironic “that teachers currently give the information out to students that they have already deemed to be correct. There is not authentic context requiring students to critique information”. It is the ability to critique and use information that is such a crucial skill.
A large number of students involved in the research I conducted showed a lack of understanding about information literacy and general skills needed to access the web. These findings would appear to be somewhat in contrast with a number of the articles written by Mark Prensky who coined the terms ‘digital natives’ to refer to our tech savvy younger generation who have grown up with technology and ‘digital immigrants’ which incorporates the generation of our teachers, who use technology but do not find it as easy as their students. I believe that the use of these terms leads teachers to believe that students inherently possess the necessary skills and a desire to use new technologies, and particularly the internet, in order to support their learning. My research found that often students were being set internet based ‘research’ activities for homework with very little guidance as to how to go about finding the desired information, or more importantly what to do with it.
The potential for mobile phone use in classrooms is exciting. While many of the applications undertaken for this research project currently have data charges associated with their use, it would seem that we are now at a time where we can begin to implement their use slowly. Many of the older students interviewed to seemed to believe that we should wait for the ultimate device to come on the market before we start trying to implement the use of mobile phones into our classroom programmes. I disagree. If we think of ways to enhance learning using available devices, we will be well prepared for the advent of new technologies. As the gadgets become more advanced, teachers and students will be poised to adapt, rather than running to catch up.
Image from http://www.flickrcom.photos/35781857n03/3628674599/