Wireless Companies, Schools Connect on Cellphone Learning

By Tim Ebner — October 27, 2009 1 min read
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Most students today face some pretty strict rules if a cellphone rings and disrupts class, but a few pilot programs across the country are causing quite a buzz themselves for the disruptions they are causing to traditional learning.

An article in the November issue of Fast Company magazine profiles how some wireless phone companies are teaming up with schools to demonstrate how smartphones and mobile technologies can be used to increase students’ academic performance.

So far, there have been a select number of programs supported by large wireless phone companies, including the Project K-Nect program, which was funded by Qualcomm. This North Carolina-based program gave Microsoft smartphones to a select number of at-risk high school students, who used the devices as part of algebra and geometry courses.

Rather than using pencil and paper, these students used their phones to graph linear equations, text questions to teachers, and record and upload video content, all to explain how an answer was reached. According to Marie Bjerede, Qualcomm’s vice president of wireless-education technologies, the smartphones expanded classroom collaboration. “Because the kids were able to communicate with the learning community whenever they needed to, they weren’t isolated to their work, even at home.”

While Project K-Nect was small in its size and scope, the program was mainly an experimental test, a number of school principals reported that the high schoolers who used the smartphones scored higher on math proficiency tests than their peers in traditional math classes.

Cellphones as teaching tools hold a large amount of potential to disrupt the learning process in a good way. Still, developers must find ways to keep students focused on a phone’s educational content rather than on a friend’s text message. This can be partially achieved through Internet filtering and monitoring. In the case of Project K-Nect, developers used a classroom management software, called MobiControl, which monitored the smartphones in class. But there’s still reliance on the students to use the phones responsibly, not to mention that they won’t lose them.

Qualcomm says it’s looking into expanding the smartphone program for next year, possibly to younger grade levels. For wireless phone companies, the classroom is new territory that they say is worth experimenting with and exploring.

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