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Please, turn your mobile phones on

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Guest blogger | 13:56 UK time, Monday, 3 March 2008

I've been away learning lots of new things at various conferences this past month, but there's one thing that has always got to me a little. "Please turn off your mobile phones". Why? "Put them onto vibrate mode, or to silent" I could understand, but this convention that one shall eliminate any link with the outside world seems to run against so much of what learning is about in 2008.

Mobile phones. CC Flickr:Gaetan Lee

As a speaker I take great pleasure in asking people to turn their mobile phones on. There's so much that you can do with them, especially if the speaker is saying things you would like to remember - or rather forget. It's not becoming uncommon at some education events to see teachers in the backrow texting, not to each other but to the internet, for hundreds or thousands of their 'followers' to read and reply to.

Across the world teachers have been amongst the throng taking up the mobile messaging craze, Twitter. It allows millions of people to let their friends know what they are doing by sending a text message from a mobile phone. The message appears instantly on the Twitter website and their friends, or 'followers' - who have chosen to follow their every move - can read that message instantly on the website or, better still, have it sent for free direct to their mobile phone. It's been used at culture festivals like SXSW (South By Southwest) in the States to help concert-goers find each other, but large organisations are now also cottoning on to the possibilities: to send out short daily news bulletins to large numbers of stakeholders, to let staff know of training opportunities happening that day in the school or in a webcast. Teachers in my own mobile message community track conference keynotes and let me know the tricks they're picking up in training sessions. These teachers aren't in the same school, Local Authority or country as me - they can be on the other side of the planet.

So teachers are beginning to see the potential for their own learning in a global community with mobile phones, but why should we care so much about mobiles for learning in our classrooms with our students? Is a laptop or classroom PC not enough to connect to the world outside, with its 'safe' filters in place and nice big screen?

Well, it might be pleasant for short-sighted adults to read the big screen, but your average tween or teen is more concerned with getting the information they want, when they want it, where they want it. Mobile, for them, is second nature. If you're not sure of this, find a teen who can't text message with hand and mobile firmly hidden under the tabletop.

Mobile phones also represent the biggest hope of breaking the digital divide between those young people who have a PC and internet connection at home, and those who don't. Whether a mobile phone, one of the new generation smart phones or a games console with internet access, such as the Nintendo DS or the Sony PSP, it represents the easiest way for young people to find the facts they need to get on with problem solving or carrying out creative projects. Prices are plummeting, too, meaning that teens and gadget-hungry adults alike increasingly swap old phones for the latest hi-tech possibilities - Americans jettison 426,000 old-spec mobile phones... ahem, cell phones every day.

Further evidence of the imminent march of the mobile to a classroom near you comes from Asia. What happens there has, in history, not been long in arriving on our shores. Already, there are two-and-a-half times the global population using mobile technology as those using the internet. At 2.5 billion users today, another half billion join the mobile club every year, a quarter of them in China and India. By this time next year, more than half the planet will be connected to others through mobile telephone and mobile internet.

Text messaging remains the most popular way to interact with people, underlining the continued importance of written literacy skills to get your point across in 140 characters or less. Text messages are increasingly not heading to other mobile phones, either, but to the web, mini blog posts ready to be read by hundreds or thousands of 'followers'. New 'mobile haiku' poetry and a whole new breed of romantic novel are taking shape this way, their contents a mystery to the fellow commuters of Japanese train travelers. While Scotland's Literacy guidelines have recently been interpreted as 'dumbing down' literacy, with their forward-looking definition of texts as being everything from Dickens to text language, teaching youngsters how to exploit their personal technology to the full, and in far more creative ways than they do at the moment, is more urgent than we realise.

Internet use, though, is increasingly becoming the main reason for owning a mobile phone, greatly helped by the expectations of anytime, anywhere YouTube in Apple's iPhone. In South Korea, for example, 43% of the population already get their internet access via a mobile phone and speeds of access are now reaching up to 7.5MB per second, about 130 times faster than the internet connections in most schools four years ago.

I remember when the Internet first arrived in schools how sceptical some of my teachers were. I dare some of them said: "It'll never catch on". Well, it did. Big time. It's about time schools sharpened their focus on how they can help students power up their learning with their mobile devices, rather than have them power down at the school door.

Ewan McIntosh


Texting, whilst in a meeting or a lecture, is not a case of 'using learning technology', it's an important lesson in good manners. Yes, we understand that, since mobile phones have 'the internet' and mobile phones, that they can be 'useful'. Certainly, it's true that children who grow up with these astonishing devices have the potential to use them to become remarkably well-informed. But life isn't just about 'being well informed'. It's also about concentrating on the task at hand, showing good manners and dedication. Further, as many people have said above, it costs money - the US version of Twitter for text message may be free (for the sender!) currently, but even that system is likely to change due to new regulations on cell costs in the USA. That's why schools exist, to make learning happen in groups, and be cheaper and more effective. Only one person needs to 'find out' the data from the internet, their job is to use their research to put across the point in the best way possible. And they probably won't use their phone to do it, since the internet on computers is virtually free.Fair enough, have one lesson where children are encouraged to understand that 'the internet on their phone' and 'a moving image camera in their pocket' are brilliant, amazing things to have, but the mobile phone part, whilst wonderful scientifically is nothing extraordinary. Put technology in perspective, break it down and realise what the real benefits and costs of these ideas really are.
Sun Oct 26 20:51:39 2008

When I go into schools to talk to other educators the very first thing I ask them is whether they genuinely think pupils' mobiles are actually switched off. IN the vast majority of cases they admit that they're probably not. So why do we try to delude ourselves that they're not going to use them at all? By taking a mature attitude we can gradually educate pupils in their use. And this does not just mean using internet connections- there are still a number of cases where pupils do not have this option. However, think of the potential of using the voice recorder function in lessons, or of making videos on the spot without the need for expensive equipment? Having podcasts or even quizzes on mobiles to extend learning beyond the classroom walls... Let's start integrating these tools into our classrooms, and then we can really decide to what extent we can push their use forward, judging on an individual basis rather than a blanket policy across the country, regardless of circumstances.
Chris Fuller
Thu May 29 10:52:53 2008

I am a supporter of anything that supports learning .But unless Schools are going to pick up the mobile phone bills or find a clever local solution that is free .This is still a non starter As a pupil I'd use the web and free things to access learning . I'd save my money for sending texts to my pals. I think the future is mobile and maybe phone or related gadget based a console or UMPC - I am going to msn or equiv using text speak . The gadgets are probably here but the tariffs aren't for using mobile phones in this way.I have watched this debate for at least last five years people I see really promoting phone based mobile learning are the phone companies who were behind most of the pilot projects. Football results, ring-tones and other cool stuff I'll subscribe to and pay for - school ain't coolAlso observation focus of article is on mobile device -not really on phone bit
Joecar Wilson
Wed Apr 9 22:32:09 2008

Morning Ewan, I am a supporter of 'mobiles for learning,' and have enjoyed using the the students passions for their phones to engage them. Photo treasure hunts, understanding databases. recording conversations with grand parents, setting reminders, text treasure hunts, but I am also aware of the pitfalls. I am also a part of a wider teaching body of a school, the NASUWT interview on Teachers TV outlined the significant pressure / stress some teachers experience as mobile technology is exploited. This is indeed a delicate balance.(brought over by Ewan from edu.blogs.com)
Kristian Still
Wed Apr 9 12:18:45 2008

Should we expect pupils to pay for their education? Connecting to the Internet will cost most of them real money. Sending texts will either cost them or eat into their monthly allowance of free texts. It certainly cost many of the pupils in my class when I asked them to enter data into a google docs spreadsheet via their mobiles. The data entry worked, but I had to give up on the idea when I discovered that they were incurring expenses in so doing. I sometimes wonder how many of the "why oh why are we depriving the kids of these great tools" brigade have actually done as I have, and used them for real with real classes?And how many have used them on an ongoing basis, where the reality of using up free texts and paying for mobile Internet access might outbalance the novelty appeal of using their phones in class? And how many of them work in schools where pupils are being asked to send school-related texts and surf the Web via their phones in every class, and asked to pay themselves for the costs they incur? Can you really see the last scenario going down well with pupils and parents?By all means encourage innovation, and allow teachers greater autonomy to decide when mobile phones can be used in class, but let's keep it real here - we simply aren't ready yet for the wholescale use of mobile phones in school. We may be ready soon - especially if more pupils' phones connect to the Web via wifi and schools allow them to connect to school networks - but we aren't ready now, and we should not therefore imply that the only thing holding us back is the attitude of teachers and education authorities.
Robert Jones
Tue Apr 8 20:37:19 2008

I believe we should harness the power of mobiles in school rather than fighting them. Enough said.I would like to share an example of my own use of a mobile during a conference session. It was really great, so I was "micro-live-blogging" it by posting updates to Twitter. When a good point was made which I thought might interest my fellow educators and followers, I sent a tweet. Within minutes I had someone several states away commenting and requesting one of the resources I had mentioned. The next thing you know we were sharing more resources on another professional development topic. That's the power of the network. If I had been intimidated by the fact that no one else was using a mobile I would have missed out on that, and so would my colleagues. (I admit I was worried my higher-ups would think I was just playing or texting friends, but I risked it anyway.) You can't beat live communication that adds relevancy and richness to a topic you're studying. The research proves that when we can connect learning to present and prior knowledge or experience, it sticks. Why do we deny that to students?
Suzanne Shanks
Tue Apr 8 11:24:50 2008

Mobile phones allow us the ability to connect with anyone, at anytime, anywhere - without needing specialist equipment. They allow us to access information "just in-time" rather than "just in-case". Students have access to a myriad of tools through their mobile phones. The can turn their phones into full graphic calculators, voice recorders, cameras and web browsers through which they can record their learning experiences, seek information and build extensive learning networks. Embracing mobile phone technology in classes does not mean all lessons will be delivered via mobile phone. What it does mean is students have the opportunity to drive their own learning as the teacher no longer becomes the holder of all knowledge, rather a facilitator teaching valuable information literacy skills whereby students access information and learn how to use it for their own meaningful purposes - much like they will be expected to do when they join the workforce. Best of all, students are fluent in the use of mobile phones and motivated to use these tools. Yes there are serious issues that must be addressed particularly concerning social responsibility. However, banning the technology is obviously not the answer either as these issues are currently prevalent despite the majority of education institutions blanket banning. Mobile technology is new to all of us. As society grows with the technology I am sure appropriate etiquette will become more apparent - and this applies to everyone, not just students.
Toni Twiss
Tue Apr 8 10:30:21 2008


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