Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education

I'm still getting my head round Twitter. On Twitter, the insignificant and the indispensable collide - sometimes in the same tweet. That's part of the reason I remain unsure about Twitter. I said recently that I was unconvinced about Twitter's value as a CPD tool but other Twitter users challenged me on this. So rather than just use Twitter for the insignificant I thought I would try something that was at least educationally interesting. :-)

Noo Possession
Originally uploaded by Saad.Akhtar
A student sent me a text with a question. I answered it but wondered if my Twitter contacts could hep me expand or develop my answer. The context was a session I delivered to PGDE(S) students on using mobile phones/technology in the classroom. (Started sort of the same as my SLF spot but went to broader issues than just gaming.) I invited the students to text questions and comments during the session and responded to some as I went along. However, I thought some questions deserved a more considered response.

One such question was:
Do u think it is right to use individual students mobile computing equipment in a comprehensive education system?
My response:
This is a good question and it is certainly something that should be considered carefully and checked with your Principle Teacher (at least) before you do anything that will cost pupils/parents money.

I would defend it on a couple of grounds:

1) We already use equipment provided by parents/pupils on a daily basis. At a trivial level - pens and pencils for example. However,a as a parent I know I also contribute directly in other ways. For example, a charge is made for ingredients in Home Economics, I pay for music lessons and supply PE kit. I don't in principle therefore have a problem with the concept.

2) The pupils have this kit already - I'm not suggesting they buy something new.

3) I suspect that a good few are on contracts with free minutes and free texts so it may not even cost them to send a text. (I'd be interested in an unscientific poll of your classes when you get back to school to see if this is correct.) Besides, there are ways of using their mobiles that don't cost anything. For example, I didn't have time to talk about Bluetooth.

However, it is something we need to think carefully about and I'd be interested in other opinions.
So, I asked for some other opinions from Twitter and my comments in {curly brackets} are copied below:

blethers @DavidDMuir ..did the questioner mean because they'd have to pay for some education? Perish the thought! 01:29 PM October 13, 2008

blethers @DavidDMuir ..I went to a school where you had to buy all your books. I don't have a problem - do the students?? 02:52 PM October 13, 2008

{I think Mrs Blethers is saying the same kind of thing I did - education is valuable and some costs have always been associated with learning and teaching even in the comprehensive system. As long as we make sure nobody misses out due to lack of funds, I too have no problem.}

jayerichards @DavidDMuir I think it would be very wrong not to use them - lets be creatively subversive in our classrooms ! 01:48 PM October 13, 2008

jayerichards @DavidDMuir that s of course, providing you don't use up all their credit! but for bluetooth, photo/video/ podcasting etc that's good.. 01:50 PM October 13, 2008

{Worth noting that I didn't share my response on Twitter, but Jaye has picked up another of my points - there are ways of using mobiles in class that don't cost anything (assuming you already have the equipment). Also, I liked her call to be "creatively subversive"!}

goodonskis @DavidDMuir It's okay, in my view, as long as we are not increasing inequalities amongst pupils 02:04 PM October 13, 2008

{An important point. In the same way that I made pencils available in my class for those that didn't have one, do we need to make mobiles available?}

parslad @DavidDMuir At Education Unbound in London last week, I said that comprehensive education may work against this kind of personalisation 02:53 PM October 13, 2008

parslad @DavidDMuir I mentioned: comprehensive ed, unchanging pedagogy, OECD-obsession, 'blocking', and 35-hour CPD as limits on personalisation 10:08 PM October 13, 2008

{Still not sure I understand this point. Is it that there are all sorts of structural problems that have to be overcome before mobile phones can be used effectively in schools and within the current system, those problems may never be overcome. And talking of structural issues...}

tarannau20 @DavidDMuir Yes, if the student wants 2 and is willing 2 take onboard skools security policies etc. I wonder whether teachers would like it? 09:57 PM October 13, 2008

{Two good points: 1) should it be compulsory or do we have to offer alternative way of doing it for some? 2) Policies will have to be developed and communicated to pupils as to what is and what isn't acceptable use.}

nwinton @DavidDMuir : I don't see why not. Not every pupil has access to a PC at home, but that doesn't stop us suggesting them for research. 10:03 PM October 13, 2008

{Perhaps the key word there is "suggesting". If we make it compulsory though... (see above).}

spookingdorf @DavidDMuir Yes, but student needs to abide by the AUP and be responsible for the equipment. Teachers need enlightening too, to allow use. 10:05 PM October 13, 2008

{It may be their own equipment but school use implies school rules - yes?}

digitalmaverick @DavidDMuir - I'd say whilst not DESIRABLE it is APPROPRIATE if its the ONLY way such a device is to be used in school 10:27 PM October 13, 2008

{Reading between the lines here... in an ideal world, schools would have all the equipment they need but in the real world it may be better to use equipment provided by the pupils live with current restrictions.}

If I've misrepresented your tweet, set me right with a comment.

So was Twitter an effective way to get feedback? Certainly, the number of responses in a short space of time was impressive. The brevity of Twitter messages is frustrating at times but each message added something to my reply and by pulling them together here, we have the opportunity to refine our answers and continue the conversation.

I'll invite the students to have a look. Hopefully the student who asked the question will chip in too.


Chris said...

The brevity of a tweet is valuable when you're rushed - it's actually tempting to have your brief tuppenceworth in a moment instead of having to complete word verifications and so on to comment on a blog. Now, I really don't have time for this ...

mimanifesto said...

As a way of collecting opinion and data during a lecture, lesson or tutorial it's obviously (going by your experience)great. Succinct and to the point in fact.
However....it's blocked in most schools !

Neil Winton said...

Tweeting is a great tool, depending on its use… but I really like the human side of the people who tweet. At the end of the day, it is really just asynchrononus MSN, but we enjoy it all the more for that!

Instant feedback is a wonderful thing... have you considered delivering a lecture with a Twitter 'backchannel' so the students can discuss your progress as we go?

The other point I wanted to expand on with regards to your original question is that I think we are being unreasonably short-sighted if we pretend the pupils don't have some pretty clever technology in their pockets. In my expereince, there are very, very few pupils who don't have even a very basic mobile phone. I routinely ask my classes this question: out of all of my classes in August this year — S1-S6, approx 100 different pupils — only 2 did not have a phone, and they both expected to be getting one in the immediate future.

Even the most basic phones have some form of making notes/spell-checking/setting alarms. My daughter's phone has more computational power than the Apollo rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon… who knows what the pupils will be carrying in their pockets this time next year?

Good question!

Stephen Heppell said...

Lots to say - but just to add to the already good debate in a small way: it is all a bit like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan - every time you say you don't believe in phones, somewhere a child's engagement dies...

But it isn't about replicating what we did with computers - these a re new devices with new opportunities - otherwise we are back to the old "a computer is a poor book" debate. Phone picture blogs, the GPS functions, etc etc. I can certainly see a school reuesting that parents consider some key features when buying a child's phone - just as we once did with calculators - and having a few in reserve for those without. I'm quite surprised that a school or LA has yet to negotiate a mass contract with O2, Vodafone etc - think how very very cheap a contract would be for 1,000 users....

oh yes and "every switched off device is potentially a switched off child", as I often say.

Colin Schafer..... said...

As one who's been unconvinced by the practical uses of Twitter myself.... I was impressed by the feedback here. But I'm not sure the availability of immediate response is alwaysa good thing (especially when rushed). I think a more measured (and therefore maybe delayed) might be more useful than a shot from the hip.

Anonymous said...

coincidentally, I just conducted a survey in my classroom about cell phone ownership and plan information... here are the results:
in 4 classes, 85% of my students owned mobile phones. 51% of my students had a phone AND unlimited texting capabilities.
-central california

David said...

Hello Chris

I think the brevity of tweets is both their strength and their weakness.

Hello mimanifesto

Pah! I wonder why some local authorities put the Internet into schools in the first place!

Hello Neil

I used a SMS backchannel that fed into a blog. I thought the blog would make it easier to continue the conversation after the lecture.

On your second point, schools will never have enough equipment so it makes it even more short sighted to turn away equipment the pupils bring with them.

Hello Prof Heppell

Not just doing the same thing - it's like people viewing computers as glorified typewriters when they first started appearing in schools. I think we are still trying to work out what we can do with phones. Currently, I think GPS looks very interesting.

I'm fairly sure Kate Farrell's school negotiated some sort of deal with a mobile company.

And eminently quotable as usual: "every switched off device is potentially a switched off child". Brilliant!

Hello Colin

I agree entirely. That's (in part) why I copied the responses here - it was an attempt to get the best of both worlds.

Hello Anonymous (cool name!)

Interesting results. To be honest, I'm surprised it is as "low" as 85%. :-) Also, I'm curious - what age are your pupils?

Chris said...

I can't resist coming back on this: as an English teacher, I can see huge possibilities in the necessary brevity of a tweet - and in fact in the immediacy, because measured responses have their place but not, in my experience, in the cut and thrust of the classroom. And that tired cliche, of course, would go by the board when twittering!
Most people write far more than is necessary of desirable - a strict limit is a wonderful discipline.

David said...

Hello again Chris

For every kind of writing? Perhaps people write too much more often than they write too little but is there not a place for the considered and crafted piece of writing in the classroom?

However, as practice exams, it might be useful to make children answer each question in one Tweet. It might then break the habit of repeating the question in the answer: "One example of a input device is..." :-)

David said...

Another contribution via Twitter:

goodonskis @DavidDMuir ...Do you think these kind of discussions took place on introducing calculators? Probably :-)

{I remember the calculator debates. Of course, pupils now whip out their mobiles when they need a calculator. :-)}

David said...

And another Tweet:

goodonskis @DavidDMuir We'll look back &laugh in a few yrs when using mobiles is as common as calcs They'll be on the list of things to buy like PE kit

Chris said...

Of course there is, David - but even in such a piece pruning is often the most important editing. So if you were constantly self-editing to fit the limit, the spin-off could be terrific!

David said...

Twitteriffic even!

kerry said...

Thats a really interesting use of twitter, i had failed to agree on a good use of twitter until now(apart from broadcasting/marketing your product)

Colin Schafer..... said...

Interesting stuff. Don't get me wrong - I prefer brevity to prolixity but also thought over knee jerk reaction (though widespread application of that idea would put a whole load of blogs out of business, no?).
But I accept that there are times when you do want instant response/reaction - that can be valuable. And if text messaging is the way to get a volunteered answer out of someone who never contributes in class, is that not a good result?
On the other hand, what the hell do I know?

David said...

Hello again Colin

From your two responses here, I'd say you know enough to make good comments on this topic!

Mr McSwan said...

I've arranged a digital photography day for S1 pupils and many have asked if they can bring in their own cameras to take part in it. I've also asked them about their mobile phones but never thought to say about minutes or texts but considering I've only just started using twitter myself it's not surprising it never entered my mind.

I do like the idea of pupils making use of their own equipment, for one they’ll probably look after it better and another it’s probably of a higher standard than schools can afford.

I think it’s important that the schools have some version of the tech available to the pupils for those that don’t have / forget / don’t want to use their own in class.

David said...

Hello Andy

"it’s probably of a higher standard than schools can afford"

Sad but probably true. I mentioned to my daughters that schools might be able to use our old mobiles for pupils that didn't have one. "Don't be ridiculous.", they said, "You couldn't be seen with one like that in school!"

Lynne said...

Bit late in answering this - with last year's S4 we used their mobiles quite a lot to record talks/verbs/vocabulary so they could practise at home, and they used this lots.
We tried at one time bluetoothing some directions to their phone which they then followed - idea was supposed to be that they took photos to prove where they had been.

I've yet to convince this year's S4 that recording talks etc is a good way for them to learn, they are much more visual learners and prefer visual clues to audio ones, which is surprising considering most of them are permanently plugged into something. Most of them are carrying these tools around with them so I'd like to see them being used usefully in school - I've always used the "free" aspects of the phone, stopwatches, recording, bluetooth etc

Colin Schafer..... said...

I can't resist passing this on: http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=081025182242.js2g2op8&show_article=1.
As known and self-confessed Twitter users, do you belong to any of the dangerously subversive groups mentioned in paragraph six? You have to watch out for those vegtarians, you know. And you'll note the appeal of Twitter is such that it appeals to both religious communities *and* atheists! Do these people have any idea how they come across to the rest of us?

RRG said...

I posted the original question in your lecture David. I am by no means averse to this technology and like to think I have an open mind on such things. Indeed my reason for asking the question was to get a debate going; as seems to have happened!

I see someone surveyed their class and 51% had limitless texts etc, the other half of the class (or their parents) might not be able to afford £'s spent on texts if the majority of teachers were to adopt such strategies.

There are many ways in which students can show off their wealth in a comprehensive school environement (from designer coats and bags to particiation in the ski trip or even purchasing the graphic calculator with the biggest screen (as happened at my school amongst the maths geeks!)).

Use of mobile 'phones in the classroom is taking this an extra step and could cost pupils and their parents in the current environment. It is not right to expect parents to fork out £30/month+ on 'phone contracts to enable pupils to have email/web access etc etc capability.

I am all for their use if optional, or possibly for use in a group, but enforced use should be held off for a few years yet!

Of course (as is usually, I bellieve, the case with calculators) if a 'class set' were available then this might help those who didn't have access to such equipment

Tom said...

Commenting upon the initial topic, rather than the topic of twitter. I'd like to hear responses to this, it's somewhat laced with controvercy it seems.

I believe there is coming a time when we will have to push ahead with use of technology in schools. We stand to lose touch with the way kids like to live and work and so lose their interest and engagement in school.
I tried to propose a hypothetical school website amongst some of my fellow students: I wanted to see a school site where kids could log in, see a profile of themselves, their marks and grades going back over time and a homework diary listing the work set, when, who by and when it was due. If possible, I'd like to see the email system worked into the site allowing the kids to contact teachers, along with a good work submission system.
I could have taken this idea further, elaborating on why this sort of developement may help to engage more pupils and what else such a site could do, however I was shot down. The prevailing view seems to be that since not every student may have internet access at home, we should ignore it's existance once they leave the classroom.

I believe it's our job to give every child the best education we can, the goal of the comprehensive system is to encourage all pupils to do better, not to restrict everyone to the lowest common denominator. Even if a paper homework diary were available as an alternative, apparently we place not making those parents feel bad above the education of all the other pupils.

David said...

Hello RRG

Essentially I agree with your basic point. If it increases the educational divide between the economic haves and have nots... that is clearly not a good thing. I think you're right to with your comparison to calculators. I think there will be a transition phase and if we want pupils to use the technology, we will have to provide the means to allow everyone to do it.

However, I don't entirely agree with your statement: "It is not right to expect parents to fork out £30/month+ on 'phone contracts to enable pupils to have email/web access etc etc capability." At one level, I agree 100%. If that is what I was suggesting, I would be appalled with myself. It would not be right to make parnts feel obliged to buy into a contract. However, the fact is that parents are already paying £30+ for contracts for all sorts of reasons... if the education of their children is one of those reasons (along with safety, convenience, ...) I don't have a problem.

Hello Tom

What you are suggesting sounds a lot like Glow. The future you imgine is already here!

There is a problem with the digital divide but with broadband being pushed by telecom companies, cable TV people, satellite broadcasters... etc. it is becoming less of a problem - particularly in households with teenage children.

I'm not sure who prevailed upon you with their view - but it is not convincing and is increasingly irrelevant. I'm not suggesting we ignore those without easy access but I am not convinced it is a compelling argument for doing nothing.

Tom said...

Sounds wonderful! But we don't seem to be using it.

I see schools with links to glow: Do the teachers put the homework there? No, it's always "Get your homework diary out." Has anyone got the teachers in those schools together and said "This is glow, this is what it does, throw out those homework diaries, you don't need them any more."? Has anyone got the kids together and said "This is glow, you can use it from home, it's here to make it easier and quicker for you to finish your work."?
As far as I can see, glow tries to be an all singing all dancing solution to everything, it's overwhelmongly big as a concept and most teachers doing 24 periods a week, plus prep just don't have the time or inclination to dig through that to find the little bits they would use.

David said...

To be fair, it is early days with Glow. Some Authorities are further ahead than others and some schools will be making better use of it than others.

I think you are right though about teacher's time - they need time to play with Glow before it will become embedded in their practice. But then, your hypothetical website would have exactly the same problems.