February 16, 2009

Industry Study Supports Use Of Cellphones In Classroom

Members of the mobile phone industry are presenting new research that advocates the use of smartphones in the classroom.

Qualcomm, a maker of chips for cellphones, sponsored the new research, which has caused some critics to discount the findings as a clear attempt to expand into the education market.

Meanwhile, backers of the research say they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s.

"This is a device kids have, it's a device they are familiar with and want to take advantage of," Shawn Gross, director of Digital Millennial Consulting, which received a $1 million grant from Qualcomm to conduct the research, told the New York Times.

Gross says wireless companies could sell 10 million to 15 million phones in the next few years due to the possible expansion of cellphones into the classroom.

His group is set to release findings on Tuesday that show how smartphones can actually help schoolchildren with their algebra studies.

The study took place among four North Carolina schools in low-income neighborhoods. Ninth and 10th grate math students received cellphones running Microsoft Windows Mobile software to help them with their algebra.

The findings will be presented at the Mobile Learning '09 conference in Washington, D.C. this week. The conference is sponsored by wireless industry trade group, CTIA.

Researchers observed that the students used the smartphones for different tasks, such as recording themselves solving problems and posting the videos to a private social networking site, where classmates could watch.

The students also were allowed 900 minutes of talk time and 300 text messages a month to use outside of class.

Students that integrated cellphones into their studies performed 25 percent better on the end-of-the-year algebra exam than their non-mobile counterparts, researchers found.

"Texting, ringing, vibrating," said Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union. "Cellphones so far haven't been an educational tool. They've been a distraction," she told the NYT.

"I'd like to see if they can improve writing skills with a cellphone," said Bill Rust, an education and technology analyst at the Gartner Group.

There have been previous attempts to bring cellphones into schools. Last year, 2,500 New York City public school students got an exemption from the city's overall ban on cellphones and received a free Samsung flip-phone.


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