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Can Cell Phones Transform Learning with ICT?

By Kennedy Bwanga
Can Cell Phones Transform Learning with ICT?

Cell phones, over time, are becoming ubiquitous and are an untapped resource in education (James and Rita 2008). By failing to integrate cell phones in our teaching and learning environment, we are losing out on the opportunity to utilize the excellent features offered by these devices. For example, we could use phone cameras for scientific data collection, documentation, and visual journalism through evidence gathering, collecting, and classifying (Prensky 2005). Alex (2010) gives a preview of what is at stake by quoting Domenech, the head of a school administrators’ group who laments that education is missing the boat by not exploiting the love affair between kids and technology. A normal high-end cell phone has the computing power of a mid-1990s personal computer but takes in only one one-hundredth of the energy (Prensky 2005).
The cell phone can be seen as an extension of one’s identity. This explains why these devices are a hot commodity among teenagers. The teenage period is the identity-dilemma time, and they help to define who we are as individuals.
What are the challenges?
Teachers will most likely need professional development courses in order to successfully integrate mobile phones as tools for teaching and learning (Milea et al 2005). The issue of control and creating a sense of responsibility among learners also needs to be considered carefully because young learners will inevitably try to challenge any system in place. For instance, students have been caught taking pictures of peers in the restroom. In eastern Washington, administrators at Mount Spokane High School bought cell phone jammers, enabling them to block calls and text messages (Alex 2010).
Internet connectivity may also pose a challenge. This should not be the case, according to Milea, Green, and Putland (2005), because materials can be downloaded for later use. A number of academic institutions have introduced cell phones into the classroom as a medium for learning without first giving thorough consideration to the means of implementation. This can leave teachers confused and unable to discern which tools are needed for what purpose in the classroom (Berge 2007).
Mobile phones, just like most personal digital assistants (PDAs), rely on rechargeable batteries as their source of power, but keeping the batteries charged can be a challenge (Milea et al 2005). Mobile phones can also be noisy or cause other distractions in specific situations (Naismith & Smith 2009; Hsi 2002). One solution to this problem is to use headsets or earphones. This approach has been tested before, but some students experienced isolation as a result (Woodruff, Aoki, Grinter, Hurst, Szymanski & Thornton 2002; Berge 2007). Challenging issues such as security, equity, storage, and privacy should be addressed in the course of planning cell phone integration into the classroom. Technologies such as RFID tagging and smart cards may go some way toward addressing a number of the security issues (Milea et al 2005).
Looking ahead
Cell phone-enabled education is a reality with which we will need to reconcile ourselves going forward. According to James and Rita (2008), if you were to ask a group of teenage students how they feel about their cell phones, the majority would most likely say, “I love it!” or “I can’t live without it.” If, however, you were to ask these same youths what they think of their school or education in general, they would likely give you a very different answer—quite possibly the opposite one. Alex (2010) concludes that the usual policy of banning cell phone use in schools does not work, and will never work at all, while James and Rita (2008) state that if we use the cell phone as an effective teaching and learning tool, students’ desire to become fully involved in their education will actually increase.
Administrators can even make use of SMS to notify parents of student absences from class and to notify students of any changes to their schedules (Milea et al 2005). I see some predictions already coming true: Berge (2007), while referring to Rainie & Anderson (2008), says that mobile tools will become learning tools in one to three years’ time and that by 2020 mobile phones will be the main connection tool to the Internet throughout the world! l
Kennedy Bwanga is a teacher at Xian Hanova International School, China.
A version of this article was initially presented in the context of a course titled: “Transforming Learning with ICT” at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.
Alex, J. (March 2010). “Some schools rethink bans on cell phones.” MSNBC news network.
Berge, Z. (2007). “Barriers to online teaching in post secondary institutions: Can policy changes fix it?”
Brooks, F. P. (1987). “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering.” Computer. April 1987, pages 10-19.
James, H. R. and Rita A. H. (2008). “Cell Phones for Education Meridian.” A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal, 11:2.
Milea, J., Green, I., and Putland, G. (2005). “Emerging technologies: A framework for thinking.” Canberra: ACT Dept of Ed & Training.
Prensky, M. (2005). “What can you learn from a mobile?” Journal of Online Education.

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