Mobile phones: use in the classroom

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How are schools using mobile phones to promote learning? We link to a Becta study into mobile phone use in the classroom. Hertfordshire Grid for Learning lists handheld devices and possible mLearning applications. Finally, we cite two blogs on MFL ideas and general classroom uses for mobiles.

Becta report

This report from Becta in 2008, now available from the National Archives, investigated the use of mobile phones in the classroom through a nine-month project involving three schools.

On page 9 of the report you can find a list of learning-related activities regularly carried out by pupils on their mobile phones during the project. These include:

  • Timing experiments with stopwatch
  • Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
  • Photographing development of design models for e-portfolios
  • Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
  • Bluetoothing project material between group members
  • Receiving SMS & email reminders from teachers
  • Synchronising 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

Adoption of mLearning

The report recommends:

... a gradual adoption as attitudes and behaviours align with purposeful learning, until the school (and the community) reaches the tipping point, and mobile phone use is as natural as using any other technology in school.

The report suggests a number of ways in which schools might introduce mobile phones for learning. These include:

  • Identifying and supporting champions: volunteer teachers who are prepared to take some risks
  • Involving those who have responsibility for curriculum, student management and technical support to plan and work through responses to the issues raised in this report
  • Initiating discussions about using mobile phones for learning (perhaps using student voice work) and surveying current ownership, device capability and the ways mobile phones are already being used in the school
  • Providing hands-on, small-scale opportunities for teachers to try out appropriate uses for mobile phones
  • Encouraging teachers to design activities that make the learning purpose clear and to anticipate management issues at the classroom level (such as rules, etiquette)
  • Informing parents of the learning purposes for mobile phones and involving them in establishing appropriate ownership, management and ethical arrangements
  • Anticipating and addressing technical issues ranging from battery charging to network access and security, data protection, etc
  • Developing new school policies that shift the focus of policy attention away from the device to the uses, security and behavioural issues that are the real concern

Handheld devices: mLearning

Mobile phones are among a wide range of handheld devices currently owned by pupils.

A page from the Hertfordshire Grid for Learning points out that one rationale for deploying mLearning is that so many young people own sophisticated personal media devices. Schools could not afford to buy this technology themselves, but their own pupils already possess it.

The page details the kind of devices currently in use in schools, including:

  • Mobile and smart phones
  • PDAs (personal digital assistants) and EDAs (educational digital assistants, with pre-loaded software)
  • iPods
  • Tablet PCs and iPads
  • Sony PlayStation Portables and Nintendo DSs

It also lists activities that can be carried out using such devices. These include:

  • Taking, storing and reviewing photographs and short films
  • Storing documents to be accessible to the user everywhere
  • Downloading teacher-made resources to work on individually
  • Using dedicated educational software
  • Accessing the internet
  • Reading e-books
  • Listening to relevant podcasts
  • Emailing and texting
  • Creating Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, graphs, etc
  • Using handwriting recognition
  • Using GPS for location-based activities

The page points to other mLearning work going on around the UK, case studies of Hertfordshire Schools, essential considerations for teachers, and video links.

Mobile phones in the MFL classroom

This blog post lists teaching ideas that teachers are using, here specifically in the modern foreign language (MFL) classroom:

Voice recording: students record themselves speaking in the target language. They then play it back, listening to their work.

Video recording: one student records two others performing a dialogue in the target language. This is used for practising GCSE Role Play activities and for improving pronunciation:

“We have also done this using the school’s video cameras but, for some reason, the students prefer to use their mobiles. The fact that they don’t need to be taught to use them saves valuable time in class too.”

Sending files via Bluetooth:

... for the last couple of years the students have recorded their presentations for GCSE speaking exams using Audacity. I edited them, taking out long pauses and ‘erm’s, saved them as MP3 files and bluetoothed them to each student.

They then listened to them on their mobiles or copied them to their MP3 players. We found this an excellent way to revise.

Downloading: the teacher uploads short films made with pupils to a YouTube account created for the MFL department. The pupils can then download the films to their mobiles.

Using the web: the teacher permitted pupils to look up the meanings of words and to refer to Wikipedia for information on certain topics in the target language.

Using blogs as a source of ideas

This blog features a presentation which the author is continually updating as he comes across further ways to use mobile phones in the classroom. The presentation opens in Google Docs. Examples of innovative usage include:

  • Homework diary
  • Group research using a smart phone
  • Taking a quick poll
  • Recording a lesson
  • Using the phone's camera to take pictures during a 'scavenger hunt'
  • Seek 'n' spell GPS app for smart phones
  • Stopwatch
  • Recording a personal log
  • 'Call an expert'
  • Creating position and velocity graphs
  • Calendar and reminders

Additional sources and further reading

The blog Fern's Big Idea is written by a year 8 child. It is part of a literacy project using social media, and is carefully administrated by a teacher. The story proceeds in short chapters, and visitors to the blog are invited to vote on possible plot twists.

School becomes first to lift classroom ban on mobile phones and MP3 players, Daily Mail, 14 October 2009

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