Friday, March 28, 2008

Mobile phones - A Weapon of Mass Instruction

I came across this post from Will Richardson: Students Pay a Price (Literally) for Cell Phone Ban. It's more than worth reading the whole thing, but here's the bit I want to talk about:

Joshua is iTrapped
Originally uploaded by Stillframe
But here was the moment that floored me. Obviously, these kids don’t leave their cell phones at home. They are too important as a communications tool for safety’s sake and for social connections. Yet they can’t get these phones through the airport like scanners at the front of the building. So what do they do? Seems a little cottage industry as sprung up at the delis and bodegas around the school so that kids can check their phones in for the day at $3 a pop. They get a ticket, just like a coat check, on their way into school, and they pick it up on the way out.
Will's focus was on the cost to pupils but the bit that hit me was the use of scanners to detect phones. Presumably the scanners are there to check for dangerous weapons: so they look for knives, guns ... and mobiles! Unbelievable. The school my children attend in theory bans mobiles but in practice, as long as they are not used in class, kept out of sight and (most importantly) kept silent, they are tolerated. But for schools to frisk and confiscate is just unbelievable.

I've often said that schools should be looking for ways to use mobile phones in classes not just to ban them (though, to be fair, some schools are). However, although it may not be as bad in Scotland as it is in the school Will describes, the reality (and stupidity) of the mobile phone policies was brought home to me the day after I read Will's post. We were visiting the Computer Science Inside project at the University of Glasgow's Computing Science Department with out Computing students. We had just completed a really interesting session on machine learning that used predictive text as the hook to introduce important computing concepts. At the end of this enjoyable exercise, the session leader (Quintin Cutts) said something like, "At this stage, you could get the pupils to try this on their own mobile phones." The sharp intake of breath from the students, fresh from a school placement, spoke volumes about the policies on mobile phone use in Scotland. Quintin said, most pupils now carry with them more Computing power than was used to launch the first moon landing. That may or may not be an exaggeration, but at a time of tight resources, how can we afford to ignore a fantastic learning resource like this?

So what do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? Do you have examples of schools that are making good educational use of mobiles?

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1 comment:

David said...

I'll answer my own question by posting a link to a story about a school in Canada using cell [sic] phones: Texting 101 :