Cell Phones – Time to Lift the Ban on Mobiles in the School Setting?
Needless to say, the general consensus regarding cell phones and schools is that the two simply do not mix. However, a new study from across the pond gives strong indication that schools should give greater consideration to putting these handheld mobile devices to work.
The Current View
When it comes to cell phones and schools, the current position is that these mobile devices have no place in the school setting. At FabZone.net, we found the following rather emphatic assessment:
Distractions such as cell phones don’t belong in school…. Cell phones in school are an unnecessary distraction that takes time away from teachers and can be a source in cheating…. I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you think students will not be texting each other while a teacher is teaching, you’re dead wrong…. Cell phones have become a huge problem.
And as yet another indication of how professors view these wondrous little devices, we turn to a story that appeared in the NY Times.
Halfway through the semester in his market research course at Roanoke College last fall, only moments after announcing a policy of zero tolerance for cellphone use in the classroom, Prof. Ali Nazemi heard a telltale ring. Then he spotted a young man named Neil Noland fumbling with his phone, trying to turn it off before being caught.
“Neil, can I see that phone?” Professor Nazemi said, more in a command than a question. The student surrendered it. Professor Nazemi opened his briefcase, produced a hammer and proceeded to smash the offending device. Throughout the classroom, student faces went ashen.
“How am I going to call my Mom now?” Neil asked. As Professor Nazemi refused to answer, a classmate offered, “Dude, you can sue.”
Let’s be clear about one thing. Ali Nazemi is a hero. Ali Nazemi deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mobile Phones and Learning in Secondary Schools
However, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Nadja Heym of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham recently released a research report that would seem to contradict that current viewpoint. While How mobile phones help learning in secondary schools may not be a ringing endorsement of cell phone use for educational purposes, it certainly offers an interesting take on the potential use of these mobile devices to enhance the educational setting.
The study followed teachers in three schools who began exploring ways to use students’ personal phones as well as additional borrowed smart phones. Though in each case there were existing school policies banning mobile phones in class, students were given permission to use cell phones for a wide array of activities.
The study focused on the basic question: Is there a positive side to mobile phones in schools and if so, how might they be used to support learning? The researchers came away with a yes verdict and offered some specific ways in which cell phone technology could support learning.
A partial list of the ways that teachers used the devices included:
- Timing experiments with stopwatch
- Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
- Photographing development of design models for eportfolios
- Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
- Bluetoothing project material between group members
- Receiving SMS & email reminders from teachers
- Synchronizing calendar/timetable and setting reminders
- Connecting remotely to school learning platform
- Recording a teacher reading a poem for revision
- Accessing revision sites on the Internet
- Creating short narrative movies
- Downloading and listening to foreign language podcasts
- Logging into the school email system
- Using GPS to identify locations
- Transferring files between school and home
As one might expect, students were at first quite surprised by the notion that mobile phones could actually be used for learning. Because of their prior use pattern, the phones were deemed items associated with socializing.
In addition, the use of the cell phone technology in the classroom served as a great motivator for students. Almost all students reported greater enjoyment in projects and felt more motivated. In one school, the results indicated that the phone use in the classroom helped students both in their social and learning environments, thereby increasing student confidence and their work ethic.
One key element supporting the use of mobile phones over other handheld learning devices is that most students already own mobile phones. Therefore, the allowance of cell phones was a step towards student ownership and greater personalization of learning. The fact that students used the devices outside of school and in social settings meant they also tended to bring a set of skills to the classroom by virtue of their own experimentation with their phone. In addition, the phones allowed for a reduction in the number of devices to carry – many students reported using them in place of their calculator.
Noting the current concerns, the researchers assert that the eventual aim should be to replace policies that involve blanket bans on the devices. That said, they noted the supervision-related challenges associated with cell phones and therefore noted that whole-school changes should not occur at the outset. Instead, the researchers note a gradual shift would be more appropriate, one that could coincide with behavioral changes when the alignment of mobile devices with purposeful learning occurred. Ultimately, the researchers suggest that mobile phones could in fact come to be perceived as natural in the school setting as any other technology.
As for mobile technology having the potential to positively impact education, the researchers offered an assessment that contrasts significantly with the view of FabZone or Prof. Ali Nazemi.
In every case, other teachers became interested and involved, and the project teachers decided to continue using mobile phones. These champions of change have shown that, with good planning and anticipating class management and technical issues, using mobile phones can be a very productive way to augment access to tools for computing, communication and photography. As one student said ‘It is good to use new technologies. It prepares us for the future as we will be using mobile phones more and more.’