Cell Phones Getting Push in Education, But Not Without Resistance


Extra Credit
Youth, Technology, & Learning


In this video from Larry Edelman at the University of Colorado Denver, students discuss their uses of cell phones. Said Edelman: "Today’s students will soon be in our professional workforce. Their natural use of multiple technologies for communication and learning is an asset--we need to re-tool our traditional professional development strategies in order to successfully engage this new generation and support their workplace development. And we need to do it now. If we don’t, we risk missing the same opportunity that some current high school educators are missing. I knew that high schoolers could explain this better than I could. So I interviewed these great kids, with no expectations or preconceived notions of what they might say. This video is the result. I hope that it will offer a useful message to educators, professional development specialists, and parents as well."

To view this video full-size, click here.

For some time, cell phones and other mobile devices have existed on the fringe of educational technology. Some districts encourage them; some districts ban them and even go so far as to suspend students for bringing them to school; many don't have a policy one way or the other, as long as students keep them turned off during class. But recent developments in mobile technologies may help give cell phones a boost in the education space, although policy challenges still abound.

Educational Software for Cell Phones
As we reported last week, a new endeavor from engineers at the University of Michigan is delivering software aimed at turning Windows Mobile-based cell phones into educational tools for K-12 students. A pilot program using the software suite is currently underway at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School, part of Keller Intermediate School District in Texas. There, 53 fifth-grade students were equipped in January with smart phones, which are being integrated into students' lessons.

The goals of the project are to determine whether, using the technologies, students can demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge; to help students understand social networking and the responsible use of technology; and to extend the learning day for students. As the district posted on its Web site: "Educational environments have responsibilities and obligations to provide students with tools that simulate real world learning environments. Mobile learning devices provide options that will lead to such conditions."

"This is the beginning of the future," said the developer of the software, Elliot Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and a member of U Michigan's Center for Highly Interactive Computing. "The future is mobile devices that are connected. They're going to be the new paper and pencil."

CTIA's Education Push
Now wireless telecommunications association CTIA is trying to give cell phones another boost in education. The group is partnering with One Economy Corp. to launch its new Wireless Digital Literacy Initiative, a national program aimed at bringing the mobile Internet to disadvantaged youth.

The program, targeted toward high school-aged students, will provide 5,000 individuals with wireless access to educational, finance, and life skills content through One Economy. The students will also be provided with wireless technology training.

“This initiative comes at a time when increasing numbers of youth are unemployed and when the country is seeking ways to expand broadband adoption. By harnessing the energy and potential of youth and wireless technology, we can make a difference,” said Rey Ramsey, CEO of One Economy, in a prepared statement.

Further details about the program will be released in April.

CTIA is also planning to release new research demonstrating the educational value of smart phones this week at the Mobile Learning Conference 2009. According to reporting in the New York Times, the move is part of a larger effort on the part of CTIA to make the case for cell phones at school.

An Uphill Battle?
But will it be an uphill battle? Despite the overall positive perception of cell phones and other mobile devices among students, parents, administrators, and teachers (see below), several states and an unknown number of districts place bans on cell phones and other portable electronic devices. And Pennsylvania students may become the latest victims of statewide portable electronic device bans. Just last week the state's House of Representatives introduced a bill that would specifically ban cell phones, recording devices, and audio and video playback devices at all schools across the state, in school buses, and at school events.

The bill amends the Public School Code of 1949 to read: "The possession by students of telephone paging devices, commonly referred to as beepers, cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material shall be prohibited on school grounds, at school sponsored activities and on buses or other vehicles provided by the school district."

This bill has been referred to the Pennsylvania legislature's Committee on Education.

What Do Education Stakeholders Think?
But students, parents, administrators, and teachers in large numbers across the country have already expressed an interest in the use of cell phones and other mobile devices in education. The 2008 Speak Up Survey, conducted by Project Tomorrow, found that, across all of these groups, 52 percent think mobile technologies can help engage students in learning. They also agreed that mobile devices can help extend learning beyond the school day (43 percent) and help prepare students for work (42 percent). The survey included 319,223 students, 25,544 teachers, 19,726 parents, and 3,263 school and district administrators.

Among students, more than half participating in the 2008 survey said they would "use technology more easily at school if they could use their own laptop, cell phone or mobile device to work on projects, access related software applications and the Internet, and communicate with classmates," according to the survey. About a third do have access to a laptop. Most high school students (67 percent) and middle school students (52 percent) have cell phones. And 75 percent of middle and high school students have a digital media player.

In the survey, mobile technologies also ranked high among teachers and administrators when asked what equipment they would choose when outfitting a hypothetical "ultimate 21st century school."

Updated results from the 2009 Speak Up survey will be released in late March.