Archive for the ‘Cell Phones in Education’ Category

On December 7th, my employer school board used a PA Day to organize and connect all education staff of the board from their remote locations via an internet stream to watch two speakers discuss the issue of 21st century fluencies. It was a mammoth undertaking I am sure but one I found successful as it used communication technology to demonstrate the power of communication technology as staff listened to two speakers talking about the power of communication technology.

The two speakers, Ian Jukes and Will Richardson, both discussed how education systems in general, and schools in particular, need to do things differently because of the nature of new technology and how it’s transforming society as a whole. One of the ideas that really struck me was the idea of ‘digital bombardment’. Presented by Ian Jukes, it is the idea that all of us, including kids, have this pervasive exposure to digital technology.

When Jukes first mentioned it, the first idea that came to my mind was that this was a new and novel way of discussing the mature topic of information overload. Upon further reflection, however, I’m seeing that digital bombardment is about more that just information overload. It is the fact that all day, everyday, we are interacting with a multitude of different devices exposing us to content in many forms and that this exposure is nonstop. Another striking element to this notion is that unlike information overload, digital bombardment may not be just a phenomena in western society. With cell phones and smart phones connecting people to the Internet in less privileged countries in a way computers have never been able to accomplish, for the first time ever, we may be seeing a global social shift brought about by mainly mobile devices.

We could go on and on here about stats. We could discuss the amount of content being uploaded to the Internet on a daily basis or how many internet-connected cell phones there are globally and how this is connecting people in areas that were previously unconnected. We won’t do that here because I think you know this already. It’s really the implications of this that I find interesting.

One implication is how this social shift is being driven but mobile devices. I have stated many times that I often write my blog posts from my phone. I listen to music from my phone (both purchased music and streamed music). I listen to radio programs and podcasts from my phone. I watch, read and listen to news stories and books from my phone. I communicate with others and stay current from my phone. I get directions and ask for directions from my phone. I can even control my TV now from my phone. I’ve been doing all this for some time now so none of this even phases me anymore. What has struck me now is that many of these activities and more can be done by anyone with a smart phone and these are becoming ubiquitous in geographic areas never seen before. The lower entry costs of mobile devices vs. computers is truly connecting and bombarding people globally.

Another implication is how we are connecting with each other. While I am definitely and advocate of the wider use if mobile devices, I sometimes can’t help but to feel that this constant screen watching is creating this Orwellian world of external social control through information dissipation through technology and its only getting worse. Everywhere we look, we see screens – the mall, the doctor’s office, schools, the gym, etc. and we bring our own screen to fill in the void in those public and private places that may not have one. Access to unlimited information is a good thing but what happens if access and exposure to information is directed maliciously by some external source?

Bring it back to education, Juke’s point was essentially that we have to adapt and do things differently in a world where digital technology and screens invade every space that we all inhabit – kids and adults alike. Rather than bemoan the state of affairs which are beyond our control, let’s work on what we can control and leverage what kids bring with them to help them learn. This is what this blog has always been about – leveraging technology to improve learning. It continues to be relevant and becoming more important as the years go on. The key piece, however, is not just leveraging technology, but leveraging technology to improve learning.  If technology use is not planned around specific learning goals aimed at meeting specific curriculum expectations and is only used by children to surf the web or Youtube with no real learning aim, then it would be better not to integrate technology at all.  Technological tools need to help students learn if they are going to be relevant and useful.

Children entering kindergarten this year will graduate from high school in 2026 and the oldest mobile technology they will know is a first generation iPad or an iPhone 3. Given this reality, what do our schools need to become in order to meet the needs of these children graduating in 2026?


In the blog post, titled, “Is eLearning on Tablets really Mobile Learning (Chime In)“, RJ Jazquez discusses his opinion on on the question of whether eLearning is really mobile learning after having the question posed to him in a comment on another blog post.  In the above linked blog post, Jazquez argues that eLearning on a tablet is not mobile learning as he feels that in order for learning to be considered mobile learning, a uniquely mobile experience must take place.  This uniquely mobile experience is one that cannot be replicated on a desktop computer or in any other way.  As RJ states:

Here we are fully immersed in the most amazing computing shift in history, armed with mobile devices that set Learning free and all we can do is convert traditional desktop eLearning for consumption on the iPad, but with nothing to show for in the way of being uniquely mobile?

Unacceptable! It’s time to set the bar higher!…Ask yourself this question, is the learning experience UNIQUELY MOBILE?

While I agree with RJ that this is an excellent question, I disagree with his conclusion.  I don’t believe that using a mobile device to replicate learning that can be done on a desktop computer and calling it mobile learning necessarily sets the bar too low.  In fact, defining mobile learning as a learning experience that is ‘uniquely mobile’ creates too narrow a parameter which ultimately limits the true power of mobile learning.

In my humble opinion, I believe that the true power of mobile learning lies in the ability of one to replicate learning on a mobile device and then use the uniquely powerful features of a mobile device (i.e. learning at a distance) to enhance it. RJ lists 7 criteria that he believes one should use to judge whether a learning experiences can be defined as a mobile learning experience. True, in the title, RJ focuses on tablets but I believe that mobile devices are also smart phones and media players (i.e. iPod Touch). Below, I list his criteria and my responses to each of them (which are coloured in red). Keep in mind that my responses assume that smart phones and media players can also be used as mobile learning devices :

  • Is the experience re-imagined for touch or is it just a conversion from something that was intended for the precision of the tip of the arrow of a cursor? Not all mobile devices are touch screen and defining it as such creates too narrow a definition of mobile learning.  Traditional iPods can be used to help students listen to audiobooks or read text.  Blackberries are mobile devices too that can be used for mlearning but many models are not touchscreens.
  • Does something magical happen when I rotate my device from landscape to portrait and vice versa? In other words, when in landscape view, do I get additional resources when I turn my device into portrait mode? A great example of this is the YouTube app, it provides a unique experience in both portrait and landscape mode. Being able to get a different view when you rotate the devices doesn’t make the experience ‘uniquely mobile’.  The landscape view is a way manufacturers try to incorporate more resources on a smaller screen to try an mimic the desktop.  This is not a ‘uniquely mobile’ function – is an attempt to be more like the screen of a desktop computer.
  • Is the content itself the navigation? In other words, can I swipe left and right to advance forward and backward, or do I have to use those next and previous buttons I used back in the 20th century? This has nothing to do with mobile learning – this is simply a hardware/software feature set.  By the way, I can swipe left and right on the touchpad of my Macbook.
  • Does this learning experience take advantage of at least one of the sensor superpowers built into these amazing mobile devices, for example the GPS or the accelerometer? I’ll agree with this one.  This is one of the reasons mobile learning is so powerful.
  • Does the location of the navigation change accordingly between devices to make the experience seamless for learners as they shift from device to device? This is more of an ease-of-use argument, not an argument for mobile learning.  Location of navigation buttons are not an important element in defining mobile learning nor is it an important element when trying to make the case for the importance and effectiveness of mobile learning.
  • Does it look great not just on the iPad, but also on all other devices? Agreed.  However, the list of those ‘other devices’ also needs to include laptops which, in my opinion, are also mobile devices and strictly speaking, a laptop is also a computer.
  • Is this learning experience uniquely mobile? If so, in what way? My opinion: being ‘uniquely mobile’ is too narrow a definition for mobile learning.

In essence, this is a question of definition.  In defining mobile learning, I believe that we need to focus more on the activity of learning at a distance using a mobile device and not on the devices themselves.  Devices change but the activity remains the same.  Mobile learning is about:

  • Learning on the go by connecting to the Internet to access/create content from both inside and outside the school day and the school building – this can include, but is not limited to, listening to audiobooks or reading preliminary information on a topic on Wikipedia;
  • Engaging in on the spot, just-in-time learning using a mobile device that can access the Internet, the largest database of information humans have ever created;
  • Engaging in conversations with other students/colleagues on the content of learning from wherever one finds themselves using the Internet, the largest chat forum humans have ever created

Therefore, is eLearning on Tablets really mLearning? Yes.  mLearning is eLearning and a whole lot more.

Here are 10 of the more recent articles and blog posts that I have read concerning mobile learning. Links to the other 4 lists can be found at the bottom of this blog post.

1) 10 Reasons to Ban Pens and Pencils in the Class – A blog post that turns the criticisms applied to mobile devices on their heads by applying them to the ageless tools of the traditional classroom – Pens and Pencils

2) How Young is Too Young? Mobile Technologies and Young Children – An article on the use of mobile technologies by very young children.  You may also want to read my blog post titled “iPods in Education Part 13: Uses in Kindergarten” dated December 2009

3) Important Terms in Mobile Learning – Every new idea comes with it’s set of terms and subset of ideas.  This list provides definitions to many important terms used in relation to mobile learning.  A good list for those new to the concept of mobile learning

4) 7 Things You Should Know About iPad Apps for Learning – Mobile learning is about using mobile devices to enhance learning experiences for learners.  This article by Educase discusses 7 ideas around the newest device, the iPad tablet.

5) 32 Interesting Ways to Use Mobile Phones in the Classroom – A Google Docs presentation with 32 (and growing) ideas on implementing the use of mobile devices for teaching and learning

6) Mobile Learning Basics – An article from Mobl21; a good guide for beginners

7) Implementation Steps in Mobile Learning – Another article from Mobl21; this guide helps educators move from theory to reality when it comes to using mobile devices to help students learn

8) Cellphone Data Usage – An Infographic

9) How the World is Using Cellphone – Another Infographic

10) Mobile Learning Tag on Delicious – Follow the mobilelearning tag in delicious to see what people are finding and bookmarking on the Internet about mobile learning.  A rich source for me in keeping up-to-date on mobile learning trends

Mobile Learning: A Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: Another Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 3rd Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 4th Reading List

I have recently been investigating the concept of QR codes in teaching and learning.  A QR code is a 2-dimensional image with information encoded in it. Below is an example of a QR code for anyone who may not know what a QR code isThe code can be decoded by QR code readers that are usually found on mobile phones and are read using an image of the code taken by the mobile phone’s camera.  The code above is a link to Wikipedia’s English mobile website found at While QR codes have been in existence for quite some time in business (used initially to track product parts), I have only recently come across the concept.  I recently installed a QR reader on my iPhone and made use of QR codes at #ECOO2010 as each of the conference’s sessions had a QR code. The codes were used to allow conference participants to connect to session information on the ECOO website in order to learn more about the sessions.

I was recently reading an Educase article titled “7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes” to learn more about QR codes and their application in education. Some interesting implications for teaching and learning that are mentioned in the article include:

  • QR codes can link the physical and virtual worlds by allowing students to link to more information about an object or historically significant building or area
  • Bringing learning into the physical world and out of the classroom
  • Allowing students whose native language is one other than the dominant language of their school to connect to information about objects or ideas in their native languages

Essentially, the power of QR codes is in their ability to allow learners to use their mobile devices to link to specific information on the internet quickly and easily.  It’s connection to mobile learning appears to be a natural one as it’s often a mobile device that is used to decode the QR codes and to access the information provided through the QR code on the Internet. Using QR codes in education is still very new and much more learning and experimentation is required.  If anyone has any further information on QR codes in education or can share links to projects/experiments in their use in education, please share in the comment field.

The link below will take you to the September 28th, 2010 podcast episode from TVO’s Search engine where host Jesse Brown interview’s Royan Lee, a teacher with the York District School Board in Ontario, Canada.  The discussion is around a project that Lee has participated in where students in his class use their cell phones and other mobile devices for learning.

Click here to begin playing the audio podcast

Link to the episode on TVO’s website

Here are 10 of the more recent articles and blog posts that I have read concerning mobile learning. Links to the other 3 lists can be found at the bottom of this blog post.

1) 5 Steps to Harnessing the Power of Cell Phones in Education Today: This blog post provides 5 ways that teachers can begin using cell phones in their classrooms to help their students learn.

2) 7 Things You Should Know About Mobile Apps for Learning: An article by Educase discussing the value of mobile apps in teaching and learning.

3) Kids More Likely to Own a Cell Phone Than a Book, Study Finds: A ReadWriteWeb article discussing a study on today’s ownership trends.

4) Full Interview: Marie Bjerede on cell phones in the classroom: A podcast episode from CBC’s “Spark”

5) 50 Fun iPhone Apps to Get Kids Reading and Learning: This blog post provides links to iPhone apps that can be utilized for student learning.

6) Augmented Reality Explained by Common Craft: A look at a technology that is sure to shape the future of learning.

7) Cellphonometry: Can Kids Really Learn Math From Smartphones?: An article discussing Project K-Nect where teachers used smartphones to help in the teaching of mathematics

8) Bonus Poscast: Jesse at TEDx: Jesse Brown from TVO’s Search Engine talks about digital comics in the classroom.

9) 12 Interesting Ways to Use an iPod Touch in the Classroom: A google docs page providing various tips on utilizing an iPod Touch for Learning.

10) Why Mobile Innovation is Blowing Away PC’s: A Techcrunch article comparing innovation trends between mobile devices and PC and a discussion about why mobile will surpass PC’s.

Links to the other 3 reading lists:

Mobile Learning: A Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: Another Brief Reading List

Mobile Learning: A 3rd Reading List

Using an iPhone as a musical device is an interesting application of a cell phone.  While known as a music player designed to allow users to consume music, developers have created apps that can transform the iPhone  into a musical device to create music as well.  One iPhone app that makes this possible is Ocarina, an app that transforms the iPhone into an ancient flute-like instrument.  Sensitive to both touch and breath, this app allows users to play and create music on the iPhone.  This, however, is not the only way to use an iPhone as a musical device.  Two years ago, I posted this blog post showing other apps that allow an iPhone to be transformed into other musical instruments.

The video below profiles experiments being conducted at Stanford University in using a mobile device such as an iPhone/iPod Touch to create a mobile phone orchestra.