From Tower Sanity:
Eduation tool a phone call away
By Shane Green
Education Editor (The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)
August 15, 2005
Schools have a blunt approach to mobile phones: ban them in the classroom. But in a radical reversal, a new push has emerged for students to use them as the learning device of the new century.
Researchers at Melbourne University have begun testing the use of high-tech phones by students as a learning tool. The trials, being run in schools and TAFE colleges, are achieving remarkable success.
At the heart of the project is a dramatic shift in thinking about the use of mobiles by students – rather than just being phones, they are seen as computers that can help learning, the next step from laptops.
In the trials, students have used cameras in the phones to create “digital stories” and share information. For some students reluctant to put pen to paper, they have opened the door to literacy by being used to write stories.
The case for their use in schools is made in an article published in the journal Professional Educator, by researcher Elizabeth Hartnell-Young of Melbourne’s Centre for Applied Educational Research.
Titled What’s in a name?, Dr Hartnell-Young argues that “it’s time we had a new name for the devices-previously-known-as-mobile-phones”.
“We need to explore what mobiles mean for learning, and begin thinking of these phones as capable of supporting us in many aspects of communication,” she writes.
“It’s understandable that many educators view these phones as a huge distraction, dreadful intrusions and tools of the evil ‘snapperazi’. But as with all tools of learning, once a purpose is established, mobile devices will have a role to play.”
One of the key rationales behind the project is that students are using technology that they value and with which they feel comfortable.
“The important thing is they know how to handle it,” said Professor Hedley Beare, former dean of education at Melbourne University, who supports the project. “This is a generation that doesn’t have to be taught how to use these mobile communication devices.”
The project is using 20 high-tech phones provided by Nokia in Finland. They contain a megapixel camera, and can record up to 10 minutes of video. They can access the internet, have 8MB of memory ˜ and make calls.
Three boys from Palmerston High School, in the Northern Territory, have taken part in the trial. Dr Hartnell-Young said the boys are using them to develop their literacy: capturing images, writing about them, and emailing the work to friends, families and teachers.
The school’s principal had been looking for something to excite disengaged students, and had been “overwhelmed by the resulting enthusiasm”.
The phones are also being used in a building course being taught at Chisholm TAFE, with students receiving plans from the teacher, and recording evidence of their construction work.
The work in Australia reflects similar projects overseas.
In New Zealand, SMS is being used to help students from Africa whose first language is not English.
The research team believes developing an etiquette for students’ mobile phone use can overcome problems. The researchers also suggest using mobiles as tools to share, not just for individuals.