Mobile phones in education revisited

The most popular article on the ICT in Education website is one by a 17 year-old student called The Importance Of Mobile Phones In Education. To give you an idea of its popularity, I would estimate that it has been viewed at least 30,000 times since it was published back in July 2010. So the question is, why is it so popular?

cell phoneIs it because it was written by a student? Well, there is no doubt that student articles receive a lot of attention, but not usually this much.

Is it because it is about mobile phones? I don’t think so: I have written about mobile phones before, and again, the articles haven’t attracted 30,000 views as far as I know.

I think the answer lies in the combination: an article about mobile phones written by a student who appears to be surgically attached to one.

If you haven’t read the article, I suggest you do so now. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much educational value the author, Ethan, enjoys from his phone. And he was writing nearly two years ago, when there were not so many educational apps available, and in the solitariness of his own home without the support structure of a school to encourage him.

I recently attended an event called Mobile Technology in Maths and Science, run by the London Knowledge Lab in association with the Open University. It was fascinating. Many, if not most, of the exhibits are proofs of concept, but hopefully will become much more than that. Here is a quick run-down of some of them:


I can best describe i-Spot as social networking for nature lovers. People take photos of wildlife and upload them to the site, where other people, if needs be, can identify the subject. The site includes keys to help you identify what you’re looking at. So this ties in with science, IT (databases), geography and possibly even Citizenship. There’s a mobile app being launched for the general public on 6th June. So imagine being on a field trip and having your students, each with their own mobile phone, taking photos, sharing their findings in real time, and recording data in a very engaging way (digital photography).

Wild Knowledge

On the subject of wildlife and other types of outdoor exploration, Wild Knowledge makes some interesting looking products which I think are worth looking at. It’s their outlook that appeals to me: “Why buy a box of sensors when a cheap smartphone can do this and so much more?” (From a slide shown at the aforementioned event.)


The GeoSciTeach project aims to explore the use of smartphones in teaching geospatial concepts. The researchers worked with people who were studying to be teachers, and by all accounts the project worked quite well. Such a shame that in several schools the trainee teachers couldn’t apply what they’d learnt because mobile phones were banned.

It seems to me that banning mobile phones also means that you ban quite a few exciting applications of them. True, a school could invest in a whole load of mobile devices itself, and many do of course, but I do think that there are disadvantages to such an approach, mainly cost plus the fact that I think most people like using their own technology if they can.

... and a book

One final thing I’d like to mention here is a book I’ve been sent for review called Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom, by Sally McKeown and Angela McGlashon:

It’s not a book about Bring Your Own Technology, but it does have several great ideas you can use with handheld computers including, of course, smartphones.

I mention it in the context of the research referred to above plus a student's article about how he uses his mobile phone because it seems to me that there is a lot of evidence now that mobile technology in education is no longer a futuristic concept or an add-on.

Or at least, I don’t think we can afford to think of it in those terms.