Using the Cell Phone as an Educational Device

Yesterday Rebecca Drazdowski posted an article about Cell Phones & Education for her Wilkes University course work. Typically cell phones in the classroom are regarded as a distraction, since the kids have control of the devices and their attention is down at their device instead of with the consciousness of the classroom. Is it possible to use the cell phone as a platform for online education? The cell phone is the one Internet device that most (students) have with them at all times, can it be a resource instead of a distraction? My thoughts: cell phones aren’t just for games, there’s a ton I learn from data gathered on my cell phone.

My initial reaction relates to how you may be considering delivering your content to users. Additionally, what would be the demographic for delivering cell phone -enabled, -powered -etc content? Does the device type matter? Are high-end iOS and Android powered devices or low end (and low cost) “dumb” phones are the target for education? In any media-delivery platform, audience is a key factor to consider.

In an original article written (elsewhere) in March, I focused on a scenario where students have to document flora and fauna with camera phones. Drazdowski’s interview covers a real life scenario where students are required to use their phones or portable devices to document their assignment, share it in a common photo pool online and all content generated while in the field is reviewed by the entire class when they reconvene in the classroom.

Another scenario would focus on a young professional cooking dinner.  They are trying to prep and plan dinner for themselves based on the ingredients that are lingering in their fridge. A practical application on a mobile platform would be to use an application or website to search for recipes that involve the aforementioned ingredients. When a recipe is chosen, the user has the ability to play a series of videos on how to prepare, cook and present the different elements of the meal. In this scenario, the application delivered through the mobile device would be a native application to the phone or through a website based application with a supported video output. This kind of application would be accessible to high-end cell phones or mobile devices.

Drazdowski’s examples highlight a classroom atmosphere – and rightly so – when people think of the term ‘education’ they generally react thinking of a classroom-type setting. In all reality, any website, application or communication through a cell phone or ultra-portable device does have the potential to educate the user about something. Given that point, the real question that’s on teacher’s, parents’ and students’ minds is regulation: how will the classroom be regulated or monitored through the mobile device? Drazdowski maintains her article each program needs careful scrutinizing around the effective use of the mobile device for the educational topic, how times for the mobile device will be managed (much like any other piece of educational equipment) and what legal implications are there around use of a personal cell phone for educational purposes.

I would also point out we need to consider presentation of the educational content. Would you consider taking or offering whole courses available through the cell phone or just supplements of information to textbook- or classroom-based style of learning? I would expect there may be some resistance to taking certain types of courses through a cell phone or mobile device. However, mobile expert Tomi Ahonen had noted in a keynote in the winter of 2007 that in Japan over $82 million work of books had already been purchased and displayed on mobile devices. Is this sufficient data to imply that the mobile device is a sufficient platform for delivering static educational information? The next challenge might be to make the educational information interactive: for the user of the content, or for the community built around interest in the same content. On the contrary: if the content is interactive, the students will be focused on their devices instead of group-discussion or participation. It seems there would be a need for community-shared-devices in the classroom for interacting with one another after the content creation phase is completed.

So let’s bring this back to your personal experience: what do you use your cell phone or mobile device for? What new things have you learned through the means of your cell phone? What apps, services or data aggregators do you find most useful for exploring new things?