Learning on the move

New Zealanders love their mobile phones, and our phones are getting more sophisticated. This year telcos are expected to hotly promote data services and broadband for mobiles, as networks become…

New Zealanders love their mobile phones, and our phones are getting more sophisticated. This year telcos are expected to hotly promote data services and broadband for mobiles, as networks become faster. Not surprisingly, young New Zealanders have been quick to place mobile phones at the centre of their social lives. In 2008, the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s report on how New Zealand children are using the media surveyed over 600 children aged between six and 13 and found that 42 percent use a cellphone.

Young people shop online, play games, listen to music, shoot video, text friends and upload images to their Bebo page.

Key Points

  • Many schools have banned mobile phone use
  • But they can be useful learning tools
  • m-learning via wireless internet works on many devices

Pros and Cons

But what has the fast and furious uptake of mobile phones meant for education?

Learning and behaviour issues have been widely reported, including phones distracting students in class, bullying, and unmonitored access to the Internet.

Other barriers to phone use in education include physical aspects, such as tiny screens, limited battery life and possibly the biggest barrier of all data costs. As a result, many schools have limited phone use or banned them.

On the other hand, some teachers see the educational uses and benefits of a tool that many students already own and that, they argue, can offer significant advantages over larger, less flexible and more expensive technologies, such as desktop computers.

These teachers and their students are taking photos and videos of their work and on class trips, making audio recordings (reading a piece of their writing), transferring data (updating blogs and photo-sharing sites), researching on the Internet, and playing back slideshows and videos for revision.’Google in their pocket’.

Other examples can be found in Toni Twiss’s research project. Toni, Ministry of Education e-fellow in 2008, investigated the use of mobile phones to foster information literacy across several primary and secondary classrooms. She explored the reactions of teachers and students to having˜Google in their pocket’. The teachers in Toni’s study valued the phone for accessing the Internet and taking photos and videos, as well as making voice calls and texting. The teachers said the phone’s ease of use, the speed at which activities could be completed, and its low cost were clear benefits over other technologies. Mobile devices also allowed learners to gather and process information outside the classroom, helping bridge school, after-school and home environments.

Students interviewed for the study felt that the function with the most potential was unfettered and instant access to the Internet. “They thought that having the ability to access the internet at any time would allow them to personalise and self-direct their learning to a certain extent and saw this as being of great benefit to their learning,” says Toni.

The future for phones Toni’s teachers were cautiously optimistic about the role of mobile phones in education. She notes that, “It wasn’t until they had been given the opportunity to actually use the mobile phones that they could see the potential for their use.” She said it takes time to identify the value of new technologies and to negotiate the social behaviours that emerge from their use. Once we’ve increased our understanding of the educational potential of mobile phones and evolved school policy and classroom management approaches, we’ll see greater adoption of this technology in our classrooms.


Jo Fothergill at Raumati Beach School.

Jo’s class

Jo Fothergill, a teacher at Raumati Beach School, has been using mobile phones with her students for several years. “Technology is hugely inspiring for me and my students,” she says.

In the past, when teaching older students, Jo’s learners used their own phones.This year, few of her year 5 students have phones, but she uses her own extensively through the school day. She takes photos and video to document what students are doing and as models of classroom behaviour. She records audio for the class’s podcast. Students also use maths applications and audio books on her iPod Touch.

“The phone is convenient, because it’s in my pocket. It’s spontaneous, which means I can catch things as they happen in the classroom.” When she has a question or problem to solve, Jo contacts her large network on Twitter. She shows her students what she is doing. “Someone, somewhere along the line, has to teach responsible and appropriate use of technology “why not demonstrate it in the classroom?”