Talkin' Up a Storm: The Debate over Integrating Cell Phones into Instruction Rages: Do Potential Security Risks and Classroom Disruptions Negate the Promise of Academic Gains? A North Carolina Pilot Program May Soon Have the Answer

By Sturgeon, Julie | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), November 2007 | Go to article overview

Talkin' Up a Storm: The Debate over Integrating Cell Phones into Instruction Rages: Do Potential Security Risks and Classroom Disruptions Negate the Promise of Academic Gains? A North Carolina Pilot Program May Soon Have the Answer


Sturgeon, Julie, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


THE IPHONE, BLACKBERRY, and Sidekick, as well as the host of other multifunctional smart phones, may be the darlings of Wall Street, cell phone salesmen, and Generations X and Y, but they have yet to endear themselves to one prominent group in society: K-12 educators. There's good reason for that: Cell phones can be the devil's handmaiden when teachers are giving tests--some students are so familiar with the keyboard, they can text-message answers to friends by reaching into their pockets and never pulling their phones into view. Then there are the security worries: everything from sexual exploitation to cyber bullying.

Yet educators also know that motivation and achievement go hand in hand. "And motivation goes up when the curriculum uses technology," says Elliot Soloway, computer science professor at the University of Michigan and CEO of GoKnow Learning (www.goknow.com), which provides educational resources for handheld computers. "Would we see test scores go up immediately after implementing smart phones into the classroom? Probably not. But what we would see is more engaged children, fewer discipline problems, and plummeting truancy."

There's certainly nothing wrong with the messenger. Today's smart phones essentially put a computer in the hands of every user 24/7. "When you call it a phone, you've missed what it is," Soloway says. These gadgets enable students to write reports, perform data collection, collaborate in groups, web-surf for background materials, and map.

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"Smart phones are better than wireless internet from an instructional point of view," says Cathleen Norris, a Regents professor at the University of North Texas' Department of Learning Technologies and GoKnow's chief education architect. "[Students] can access the internet via the telephone and get everything they need without the school going through the trouble of implementing WiFi capability."

The challenge for educators is to determine whether they're ready to come on board. Until now, they've resisted cell phones, but a pilot program in North Carolina may be decisive.

K-Necting the Dots

Manufacturers nearly settled the issue before it got brewing, with the development of the Pocket PC. Dell's (www.dell.com) $199 Axim series was a smash hit with the K-12 population, as it ran Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) programs just like the desktops in the classrooms. That meant no learning curve for the students and very little brain sweat for teachers who wanted to set up lesson plans for it. But Dell found there wasn't as much profit margin in the Pocket PC as there is in a laptop, Norris says, so the line was discontinued, leaving a gaping hole in the market for smart phones to step into, but that still leaves educators struggling with the problems that got phones banned in the first place.

But soon they should have the data they need to come to a conclusion on cell phones, courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's Project K-Nect (www.projectknect.org), launching in Algebra I courses at four high schools in January 2008. The 250 students in these classes will use smart phones with a slide-out corded keyboard and advanced mobile broadband technology as part of their daily curriculum. Teachers will push a set of problems to their students, accompanied by a multimedia presentation that gives an overview of the strategies discussed in class. The instructional material contains fun, interactive content similar to BrainPop's (www.brainpop.com) animated movies. Students will be encouraged to IM to work out problems and create blogs with either text, video, or audio components.

None of this scares Shawn Gross, the project director of Project K-Nect, because he partnered up with a small development company, Ace*Comm (www.acecomm.com), whose Patrol Suite allows teachers to disable key features associated with the smart phone. At any time, the instructor can block the camera function on a single handset, cut off the ability to instant-message, or restrict voice calls to only designated individuals during school hours. …

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