Mobile Phones In The Classroom – A Challenge

A recent USA survey has shown that the use of cellphones in the classroom is at a tipping point – click here to read about it.

According to the Developing Telecoms website 90% of all telephone lines in Africa are mobile and market penetration is expected to reach more than 50% this year – representing a total of more than 500 million people in Africa owning a cellphone, several countries have broken the 100% market penetration threshold and some countries’ cellphone markets are growing at more than 100% per annum.

A 2008 research project which tracked cellphone usage among school children in South Africa, specifically in a township school, showed that when pupils used a cellphone for learning purposes they achieved better results than those who did not. When one considers the incredible market penetration of MXit, the popular mobile messaging  service with 27-million subscribers, and the pervasiveness of mobile phones in the youth market, it is surprising that most schools still maintain draconian no-phone policies. Pupils are told that mobile phones are not welcome in the classroom or on the school premises at all. They are told that the one device with which they communicate and share information is not welcome in the place in which they spend 8 hours a day learning to communicate and share information!

It seems to me that a more open approach is required. I recently heard cellphones referred to as “mobile learning devices”. I like this as it sets the tone right from the outset. It says to the student that if you want to use your cellphone for learning it is welcome but if you intend to use it in inappropriate ways and in a manner which will distract you from learning then you had best keep it at home. If our teachers are willing to use mobile phones in their teaching and pupils know what is expected from them, I believe the temptation to abuse this everyday piece of technology at school will be greatly reduced.

Imagine if your pupils could use cellphones in the classroom to record science experiments on video or through a series of still photographs and then upload these to an online sharing site complete with all the necessary notes, observations and conclusions. Imagine allowing your pupils to take their mobile phones on a field trip to interview experts, celebrities, museum staff, curators of national monuments and so on and then using that audio record to produce a piece of primary research or use as part of a report-back session. Imagine your pupils using Twitter from the mobile phones with a class specific hashtag to produce an ongoing backchannel to your lessons. Imagine your class using their mobile phones to record the planting of seeds and tracking their growth for tabulation in a Natural Science module.

The possibilities are endless if only we are brave enough to venture into waters many of our colleagues find frightening.  Are you brave enough? Will you take that first step into a brave new world where your students can use the technology with which they are most familiar to learn about that which they are not?

Innovative usage of mobile learning in schools is starting to take hold, with
forward-thinking educators understanding that today’s students don’t just want mobile learning — they actually need it.