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Mobile phones in the classroom… my current thinking…

17 June 2010 No Comment

I had a student contact me recently to ask me a few questions about my thoughts on education.  I thought I would post them here.  He is making a documentary about using mobile phones in the classroom.  I hope he makes his documentary available - perhaps on YouTube and if he does I will link it here.  Meanwhile, here are my responses to his questions:

1. What do you believe are the benefits of using mobile devices in the classroom?

There are a couple of reasons using mobile devices in the classroom are beneficial.

Firstly, students can use the technology that they already have in their pockets to do things they might not otherwise have been able to do because of limited school access to technology. In particular students can use the cameras and voice recorders on their phones to capture images and data that can be used in the classroom. Students can also make use of the calendars for managing their time, and other tools such as converters and calculators. Students can also download free applications to their phones to help with their learning. eg. dictionaries, language flash cards (ie. for learning japanese or french), full graphics calculators - see getjar.com for hundreds of examples - although of course there are plenty of less than appropriate applications on this site also. Students can also use their cameras to record information from class such as notes from the board or notes from a book that they would like to re-use at a later date. They can log the effects of an experiment in science, use the camera to create images for a static image or to support a speech etc.

Secondly, there is great potential for mobile devices to bridge the gap between learning that happens inside the classroom with that which happens outside the classroom. So, on say on a field trip students could use their phones to access small pieces of data that the teacher may have sent to them via bluetooth to remind them of certain things they might be looking for while on the field trip. Similarly, students can use their phones to record information from the field trip which they can share with each other and use when they are back in the classroom as a reminder or evidence of what they saw/experienced. It also allows students to use their own personal experiences and bring these into the classroom - for example - take a photo of how you see a certain aspect of science working in your home, or take three photos to show how you see a theme from an English text played out in your world etc.

Thirdly, students can use their phones to connect instantly with others outside of the classroom. An example might be for a technology student wanting to gain access to information from a stakeholder in their product who may not necessarily be on school grounds. Rather than having to wait until the stakeholder is available to talk to them to get ongoing feedback, students can send a pxt of their work or txt to ask questions - it is much easier to get a response when the person only needs to give a very short reply. While this isn’t appropriate when detailed feedback is needed, often a yes/no or short reply is all that is needed for the student to move forward in their project.

Lastly, although it is a little future gazing, when wireless internet networks become more accessible say on school campuses (which isn’t too far away) students will be able to connect their devices to the web - and effectively have Google in their pockets. It is interesting to think about what this might mean for teaching and learning when students can Google an answer faster than the teacher can get the information to them. It has interesting ramifications for the types of skills - particularly information skills - that will become more important in the future.

2. Do you think there are downfalls to using these devices - such as effecting development?

I think that these devices are fantastic tools to SUPPORT learning. However, they rely on good teaching practice to be effective. While there is the obvious downfall that cellphones can be a major distraction to learning and can be used as particularly nasty tools for bullying I would argue that this happens already. Simply banning phones doesn’t work because students are probably spending more time thinking about how they are going to send a text sneakily so that the teacher doesn’t see than they would if they just got on with it. I also argue that if lessons are engaging and interesting to students they aren’t probably going to be looking for distractions! I also would argue that just because students are allowed to use phones in class for school work that they would have rules around doing so. I wouldn’t mind my students having phones on during class but I would have very clear guidelines surrounding their use just like I do for students who sit in class and read books or write letters or chat rather than doing their work. With issues of text bullying I argue that we should bring it out into the open. There must be students who are being bullied but are too scared to say anything because they are afraid they will have their phones taken from them - so rather they suffer in silence. By bringing it out into the open I think that we can find better ways of tackling text-bullying as a problem.

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