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Cell Phones in Classrooms Karishma Sundaram | , 11:13 p.m. Feb. 20, 2009 2009-02-20

Stranger things have happened, but in the cell phone industry, this may actually trump all other paranormal events. 

Since the dawn of the mobile phone and the text messaging system, educational institutions at large have banned them from classrooms. Initially it was the annoying ringtones, usually exceptionally loud tending to disrupt the lecture entirely. Then there came text messages, and the ability to communicate with someone across the room, or in another one altogether, without the danger of being caught.

Apart from the annoyance and disturbance that cell phones caused in an educational environment, there is also the small matter of cheating. Even the most basic cell phone has some amount of memory. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. 

So when researchers suddenly proclaim the use of cell phones as a ‘learning aid’ or a ‘classroom tool’, there is bound to be widespread scepticism, if not downright mockery. But that is exactly what has transpired. Digital Millennial Consulting, funded by Qualcomm, is a prominent telecommunications provider and has conducted research in area of the hitherto untapped use of cell phones as an educational aid. 

Perhaps in the attempt to position cell phones in the same bracket as computers, the old concerns about the viability of this move have been pushed aside. 

The tack that was taken was to use cell phones to provide an interactive learning environment, connecting the students with their teacher closely. For example, the students could film their algebra problem solving efforts and upload these files to a shared network site. The other classmates could download the solutions, and benefit from the exercise.

There are various plans aimed specifically at the average school-going youngster, including free talk time minutes, a certain number of free messages, etc. The entire interaction is monitored by the teacher, who is wholly responsible for the correct or incorrect use of the technology - a formidable and rather daunting task.

The researchers have sparked nationwide scorn, stating that the cons far outweigh the pros of this particular technology. Teachers will have to be willing to put a great deal of commitment to ensure that the system is never abused, nor used for activities that violate the codes of conduct laid down.

Many critics have also said that the move to introduce cell phones into a learning environment is a thinly disguised attempt by the cell phone industry to penetrate an entirely untapped market. The educational industry is a mammoth one, and if the technology does take root, it will most certainly spell lucrative gains for the telecommunications providers as a whole. Perhaps that is the real reason cell phone providers are attempting to storm the last stronghold still standing against the mobile phone invasion. 

On the upside though, cell phones will actually prove to be significantly less expensive than a computer. However, the range of functions cannot be compared between the two media. Cell phone screens will necessarily be smaller, but a computer is not easily carried around. Previous attempts at introducing cell phones as aids were introduced, but these attempts were positioned as more of a gimmick than an educational aid. Students were rewarded with phone related prizes. 

While it is highly unlikely that any educational institution will willingly allow cell phones into the classroom, stranger things have happened.

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