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Making the most out of mobile

What are the potential uses and pitfalls for mobile phones in the classroom?

E-fellow Toni Twiss used her research time to find out.

The technological capabilities of mobile technology such as cellphones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are developing at a furious pace. While today’s Web-capable mobile devices and mobile data plans are costly and it’s unrealistic to expect our students to be accessing this for school now, I decided to look ahead and explore the potential applications for mobile phones in the classroom and the skills that will be needed to cope with the resulting mass of information.

Plenty of exciting ways to use mobiles

Mobile phones enable learning experiences from outside the classroom to be brought inside, particularly through the use of cameras, voice recorders and MP3 players present on even the most basic of today’s cellphones. Numerous free applications designed to run on mobile phones can be downloaded from the Web, including ones that turn them into a full graphics calculator, dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopaedia, such as Getjar (www.getjar.com). There are mobile blogging applications, photo sharing sites like Flickr, and voice recording tools such as Utterli (www.utterli.com). The latest in mobile-to-Web technology is live video streaming to the internet straight from the video camera on their mobile phone (www.Qik.com).

Most valuable application

The application that was seen as most valuable by both teachers and students involved in my study was polling via mobile, like Poll Everywhere (www.polleverywhere.com). They’re free to set up and students can participate via text message (charges do apply). Teachers can choose to use either a multi-choice poll where results are displayed in real-time in a bar graph or use a ‘free-text’ poll where students can text in their responses, which are then displayed instantly on screen.

Another free application that is already being widely used is Qipit (www.qipit.com). This converts photos to PDF format and makes them available online. This is particularly useful for sharing group brainstorms or for saving notes or diagrams written on a whiteboard.

Kids may seem tech savvy but …

The findings of my research indicate that while we’re constantly being told our students are ‘digital natives’ many of them are not as au fait with technology as we’re led to believe, particularly in the area of Internet access. While students may seem very ‘tech savvy’ they still need to be taught the skills to deal with the world that their use of technology gives them access to, namely the World Wide Web and information overload.

Never before have learners had so much access to information. The argument that always comes up is that not everything you read online is accurate. However, are we teaching our students to deal with this?

Are we teaching them how to cope with massive amounts of information and are we teaching them what to do with it? Hedley Beare has written extensively on the future of schooling. He states: “it’s ironic that teachers currently give the information out to students that they have already deemed to be correct. There is not authentic context requiring students to critique information”. It’s the ability to critique and use information that is such a crucial skill.

Potential but needs PD

My research indicated that applications and tools available for use via a mobile phone have a great deal of potential for use in schools. Currently cost of data is the single biggest factor in limiting this use. Other limiting factors impacting the ability to teach information literacy included limited access to resources (particularly technologies for accessing the Web), access to professional development, and the impact of timetabling leading to a highly segmented curriculum. However, it remains my belief that as teachers look for new ways to engage their students and make the most of learning opportunities this will inevitably involve a shift to include mobile devices.

Formerly an English and Media Studies teacher, Toni Twiss works as an ICT PD facilitator at secondary schools in Hamilton. She was awarded a Ministry of Education eFellowship in 2008. More information about her research can be found atwww.tonitwiss.com/mobile

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Categories: Article, Issue 17