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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Making Mobile Phones Mandatory: A New Educational Trend?

While some K-12 schools are leery of students possessing cell phones in the classroom, a growing number of universities are becoming downright enthusiastic. Some colleges have gone so far as to make cell phones a requirement for incoming freshmen. What’s the motivation behind this trend, and might it eventually trickle down to the K-12 universe?

This weekend, an Associated Press wire story profiled several universities that have embraced the idea of encouraging students to purchase cell phones.

With nine out of 10 college students carrying cell phones — and many of them using traditional landline phones rarely or not at all — schools are seeking ways to maintain a line of communication while deploying technologies they believe students want and need.

Some colleges are abandoning the wires and phone jacks in their dormitories. Many of those systems, formerly a source of extra revenue for institutions, now operate at a loss.

As a replacement, some are introducing their own cellular services and handsets customized to connect students with campus services and information, while adding security and instructional tools.

The University of Cincinnati, for example, has launched a program offering free mobile phones to all incoming freshmen. Morrisville State College, meanwhile, upped the ante by dumping landlines in its dormitories, requiring students to purchase cell phone services from the university. But one of the most ambitious programs can be found at Montclair State University. Officials at Montclair had noticed a decline in revenues directly associated with students no longer using dormitory landlines to make long-distance calls. So they began exploring the idea of creating a campus-wide cell phone service that would cater specifically to student needs.

After surveying students to identify specific features they’d like to see in a campus cell phone network, they partnered with Rave Wireless and Sprint/Nextel to develop the service, MSU Connect. They rolled out the program last fall, when they provided freshman living in residential halls with one semester of free service; students were then expected to pay $186 for subsequent semesters. This coming school year, all freshmen and on-campus sophomores will be required to participate in the program.

Along with providing students with local and long distance telephony, MSU Connect offers mobile classroom management tools, campus event listings, community updates and real-time public transportation information. The mobile phones are also equipped with a personal safety alert system called Rave Guardian. Utilizing the phone’s GPS capabilities, Rave Guardian allows university officials to keep track of the exact geographic location of every student at all times. It also lets students trigger a distress beacon that dispatches campus police to their location. “Police can track a student’s trip on a large screen in a bread-crumb sort of way until the student deactivates the service,” says Edward W. Chapel, who helped launch the program.

“Rave Guardian connects our students with the Montclair State University Police Department through their mobile phones, and improves their safety anytime and anywhere,” explains Montclair president, Dr. Susan A. Cole. “Our students lead active lifestyles, so whether they’re running to class or meeting a friend at night, they have peace of mind in knowing that, if they wish, someone can know where they are and where they are going, and help can be immediately on the way if needed.”

While giving students the ability to activate a distress beacon at any time may prove to be a powerful tool for keeping them safe, the fact that officials can track students 24/7 does raise privacy concerns. The AP article, however, doesn’t delve much into this issue, suggesting that students are learning to live with it. “I think some [students] didn’t like the idea that they had to have it, and some thought it was a new way to track them,” they quote Ron Chicken, an incoming sophomore. “Most people have adjusted to it.”

If the MSU Connect service proves to be a success, privacy issues aside, don’t be surprised to see similar services pop up at other universities. But would such a program ever fly in a K-12 environment? Perhaps not in the short term. Many schools continue to see cell phones as a distraction at best and a danger at worst, while only a handful of schools are experimenting with mobile phones as educational devices. That may change if programs like Montclair’s prove to be successful, particularly as the cost of Internet-ready smartphones and cellular data services come down even further. Not unlike Maine’s laptop initiative, some schools may eventually require students to carry district-sanctioned smartphones equipped with various customized educational tools, while allowing administrators to track students and regulate non-educational use during classroom hours. Such a compromise would address parents’ desires to maintain a line of communication during emergencies, while giving teachers another instructional resource.

It’s certainly possible, but don’t hold your breath. What do you think? Would it be desirable for students to carry officially sanctioned smartphones? How might educators take advantage of ubiquitous mobile Internet access? Or is this merely a pipe dream, an inevitable distraction from the educational tasks at hand? -andy

Filed under : Mobile Devices


As a blueprint, it seems tame enough; however, as I learned from years of grantwriting in education, everything looks good on paper. First, if these phones have high-tech capability, and everyone knows it’s mandatory to have one, they could become a ‘hot’ commodity for muggings, and a good mugger can outwit a technology usually, e.g., auto thieves can defeat high tech anti-theft systems. Then of course, if a student doesn’t want anyone to know where he/she is for various reasons. Plenty of ways to outsmart the technology. I believe the administration statement mentioned required of ‘every freshman.’ Suppose the freshman is 40 years old? These are just off the top of my head. How about a free can of mace with each phone? ; )

I think it will eventually trickle down to K-12 schools. It may be necessary because of sickness that children especially under 8 frequently occur. ALso with the rise of child predators and pedafiles out children should know how to call for help. Plus, parenta are teaching our children pertinent information like their phone number by the time they rach kindergarten. I think it will be important in middle school settings because of transportation. You would be amazed the number of students that are left at school after games or other extra curricular activities. As teachers or coaches we can not leave them there and if something happens then we would be liable. Plus, th eoffice staff is flooded with sick notes and can’t get theeir work done on time because they are always tracking down parents. At the high school level I think transportation and sickness are also issues. Parents also want to know where their kids are and be able to track them when they are away from each other. However, strict rules will have to be set!

I believe that mobile phones will be beneficial for educators. As an educator, I have used my cell phone for work purposes a multitude of times. Sometimes schools have phone lines that are not available. Also, I have used my cell phone on field trips for different emergencies. Another reason a mobile phone would help an educator is that it is hard to make a long distance phone call from a classroom phone. I see many benefits for teachers to have a mobile phone at school.

i think mobile phones shouldn`t be used at school. What is more annoying than hearing ringing tones while we are learning.Mobile phones may be considered as a small computer but childen may get addicted to it.Seeing teachers using mobile phones regularly may encourage children to use mobile phones

I love the idea of a phone as an electronic tool. I have a child who is very disorganized and if she could call her voice mail to leave homework assignments or test information or project requirements, that would be great. Class management for this is simple - set to VIBE. They all text their friends now anyway! Can you imagine a teacher texting the class for some information or to bring something special to school? Awesome…90% of kids already have them, let’s find a great educational use for cell phones.

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