AFT Ruffles Mobile Learning Advocates

February 18, 2009 1 min read

Most of the attendees at the Mobile Learning Conference in Washington this week are among the true believers when it comes to the potential value in putting handheld devices, along with well-designed content, into the hands of more students and teachers. So you might expect them to get a bit ruffled when someone suggests that cellphones and other small, wireless electronics have no place in the classroom.

But Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science and education at the University of Michigan, was outraged by a statement by Janet Bass in this New York Times article. Ms. Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said cellphones have been more of a distraction for students than a learning tool. In reference to a study of cellphones potential for student learning, paid for by a cell chip manufacturer, she said it “is almost laughable that the cellphone industry is pushing a study showing that cellphones will make kids smarter.”

Soloway, an outspoken advocate of ed tech, and the CEO of GoKnow, which develops educational software for mobile devices, chastised Ms. Bass.

“The AFT said it’s almost laughable that these devices improve education,” he said in his comments at the conference. “If the AFT really believes what that lady says, then they are stopping educational innovation.”

He went on: “Someone should tell the AFT that they don’t really understand. There’s a huge benefit” to learning with mobile devices.

The naysayers aren’t the only obstacle to expanding the use of cellphones in classrooms. Many schools ban their use by students. But David Whyley, a British researcher who is directing a large scale mobile learning project in the United Kingdom, said that setting rules for students and installing safeguards on the devices has led to responsible usage.

“The absolutely crucial thing is that you have intensive training before you allow kids to get their hands on” the cellphones, he told attendees Tuesday. “You have to work on classroom management of the device.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.