Mobile phones in schools?

Mobile phones are one of the most ubiquitous technologies found in the hands Americans today. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, there are more people now using cell phones than not using them--and Americans have become more dependent on their cell phones than conventional phones. The ubiquity of this technology, coupled with recent advancements in cell-phone technology and the units’ comparatively low price, make cell phones intriguing instructional devices. This has led to an intense argument regarding the opportunities -or problems- mobile phones may present in education.

At the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) annual conference panelists discussed this issue and presented information regarding how four North Carolina high schools are providing a potential solution.

The Negative
Mobile phones are fantastic communications tools, but we know this comes with inherent problems. While the smallest of these, such as a student texting in class, may cause the individual learner to fail the biggest problem have the potential to bring down an entire school system and its employees. For example, Sheryl Abshire, the CoSN board chair spoke at the conference about one school that experienced a major mobile phone crisis. Several students started using their phone's cameras to shoot pictures in the locker room and then post those pictures on social-networking websites. This put the school in legal jeopardy and caused extensive emotion harm to the victims.

The Positive
On the other end of the spectrum, four high schools from three districts in North Carolina (chosen for their high-speed broadband access, their composition of at-risk students, and because they were willing to take on the project) are showing how mobile phones can be an integral part of learning in every classroom.

In a project called K-Nect, the schools are using a million dollar grant to create a 21st-century, tech-literate environment. The program uses mobile phones to help students with math concepts, and, of course, raise test scores (still pending). Further, program designers hope that the use of mobile phones will lower the dropout rate (an ongoing problem in NC schools) because students, who like to use cell phones, might be motivated to stay in school.

Program Details
The phones used in these four North Carolina high schools are made by Microsoft and have all basic office applications included. Students use the phones to calculate Algebra 1 equations, create videos to post on blogs for other students to observe while solving math problems, and receive answers to blog posts.

Every phone, which Microsoft calls a pocket-PC, is based on a Wi-Fi platform, and students’ internet access is regulated by the school and a CIPA-compliant filter. Students can talk only during certain school-regulated hours, they can only access the camera function during school-proposed hours, and all conversation and activity can be monitored both by the students’ teacher and a general filter.