The ultimate teaching tool
The possibilities for cellphone use in schools are immense, but it requires innovative and careful thinking about how best to use the device as a teaching tool, and generally New Zealand schools aren’t at that stage – yet.
Derek Wenmoth, director for e-learning at CORE Education, is at the forefront of this change. Wenmoth says most schools simply tolerate cellphones. He cites a recent visit to secondary school where the corridors were plastered with posters that had a picture of a banned cellphone and the following words: “Invisible. Inaudible. Or In The Office.”
Those schools that are embracing the technology view cellphones in an entirely new light.
“They are looking at these as mobile devices rather than phones, and I think that’s an important thing,“ Wenmoth says.
He contributes to an international educational think tank called the New Media Consortium. Every year it surveys more than 400 leaders in education, business, industry and technology, and identifies trends that are likely to have the biggest impact on teaching. This year’s report – Horizon 2010 – has just been released on its Web site www.nmc.org, and it cites Mobile Computing as the top trend.
The report features a number of interesting projects occurring with cellphones in educational institutions around the world, so ConnectMe asked Wenmoth to identify some innovative uses in New Zealand schools.
Wenmoth says texting is hugely discouraged during class time, and it’s necessary to put in place strict rules so that kids learn when it’s appropriate to text. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a useful communication tool for schools.
Applications have been developed that link student management systems with learning management systems and feed messages to kids’ phones – reminding them of sports
fixtures or homework tasks. For parents, they can be sent personal updates about their child – for example they may be sent a text if their child is absent from school without permission.
A number of schools have bought sets of iPhones and iPod Touches and are experimenting with the devices for group work.
“They set up a wireless environment in the school, so instead of kids lugging around laptops they just have these devices in their pockets to do that on-the-spot searching for information and brainstorming,” says Wenmoth.
One school has purchased Google Android devices for its entire staff and installed a barcode app that means teachers can search the school library’s catalogue for a book, and if it’s available then reserve a copy.
Another app is Evernote, a popular tool that enables you to clip, copy and make notes of information as you surf the Web.
“These sorts of applications are now available on your mobile phone, which means that as you’re browsing and as you’re recording information, you can clip and cut and copy it using Evernote as a little management system, and export it out so that it’s all available for you at a PC or terminal if you want to do further work.”
Wenmoth says location-aware technology is “set to take off big time”. That is, the ability of the phone to hook into a satellite for location, so that when you take photographs and post them on photo-sharing Web sites such as Flickr, it will record the location which you can map right down to streets on Google.
He knows of one secondary school experimenting with an app called Layar (it’s available on the Google Android, but at press time was temporarily taken down from the Apple App Store). When you start up Layar it turns on the camera function, and overlays a grid with vanishing points on the screen. As you move the camera/phone forward, the vanishing points come into focus and a panel appears at the bottom which provides information about what you’re looking at. The information may be drawn from an online resource such as Wikipedia – or a school can create its own.
“The school is doing a local area historical trail and they’re developing their own database of information using Layar,” explains Wenmoth. “They go out and look at all this information and others can come after them, so it can be something that can be added to and added to.”