‘iPhones-for-pupils’ Scheme Helping Gumley Pupils Learn

iPhones helping students in and out of classrooms


‘iPhones-for-pupils’ Scheme Launched To Aid Learning

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The iPhone is the must-have device for the cool and trendy: a multimedia phone that allows you to make calls, watch videos, search the internet, play music, help you find your way when you’re lost and locate the nearest restaurant. It can do everything, it seems, apart from the washing-up – and it probably won’t be long before someone creates an app for that.

One thing that the iPhone isn’t associated with, however, is education. So the decision last December to give 28 students at Gumley House Convent School an iPhone each for a year and see what happens was pioneering. The trial is being run by Brentford City Learning Centre (CLC), and the aim is to see if the devices help the students, ranging in age from 11-18, to learn more effectively, both inside and outside the classroom.

Simon Elledge, Manager of Brentford CLC, had already carried out trials in other school mobile device use in the classroom, but he was keen to give students a personal, 3G-based device that they could take home with them and use whenever they needed to, rather than confining use to school hours. The idea, says Simon, was that “not only will they learn when they’re outside the classroom, they’ll also learn when they’re inside the classroom, and the learning inside the classroom will be better because they’re proficient with the device and they’ve got localised knowledge of it.”

The reason for choosing the iPhone was pragmatic: an initial fee of £10 provides internet access for a year. If students want to make phone calls or send texts, they have to pay for them themselves. There is no other device, says Simon, that makes it possible to give students internet access without paying for the phone or text function.

Children were invited to apply for the programme, and those chosen represented the spread of ages throughout the school. The students selected to receive the phones were given a talk on internet safety and on the importance of looking after a device that was worth several hundred pounds. They were also given some guidance on the educational apps available, but on the whole, they were told they were free to use the devices as they wanted. The only caveat is that when they go into the classroom, they are expected to put their iPhone on their desk, so the teacher can see it. “It’s a culture shift,” says Simon. “Instead of the secretive videos where somebody videos the teacher, and all the negatives of ‘happy slapping’, what we’re trying to say is that if you make it overt, the children respect that.”

In May, an interim report of the trial, written by an independent academic, was published. Students using the phones have accessed a wide variety of educational apps and websites, the report found, covering a range of subjects. These included:

  • timetable, homework and diary apps
  • study aids (such as note-making and assignment writing)
  • English language and literature resources, including dictionaries, thesauri and grammar reference works, as well as the works of writers such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen
  • science apps such as the periodic table
  • tutorial sites for modern foreign languages

A lot of the benefits, says Simon, have come from the ability to access information instantly: “You can use some advanced search techniques and we can find all sorts of things within that instantly.”

The students have adapted the iPhones to their own learning styles, with some using them to make sound recordings, and others making frequent use of the camera, says Simon: “They’re constantly taking pictures of things to refer back to, and they like being able to take quick screen dumps of web pages.”

As expected, the usage of the iPhones has varied depending on the age of the students. The younger students took longer to adapt to the iPhones, approaching them initially with caution, while the year 11 students began looking up revision apps straightaway. Between them, the 28 students have downloaded 620 apps, a mixture of games and educational applications.

Despite the fact that in a typical class, only one or two children will have an iPhone, it is often used as a collaborative tool within the classroom, says Simon, with teachers often asking the student with the iPhone to look something up on the internet: “I thought perhaps we might have a negative by only having a few phones in each class, but in fact it’s been the opposite – the teachers have latched on to it as another way that they can quickly get data.”

In a series of videoed interviews with students, almost all stressed the usefulness of the device. One older student said, “I use it every single lesson without fail,” adding, “I was struggling with biology, and if you don’t know what a key term means, you can research it online and then write it down as a definition in your book so it’s something to refer back to.” Another said, “I’m always stressed that I’m not doing enough revision, but I can sit on the train and go on BBC Bitesize or one of the apps.” Other students talked about the usefulness of being able to do homework on the iPhone and then email it to their home computers and print it out.

Some of the outcomes have been unexpected. One student, who has infantile arthritis, has used the iPhone to take pictures of the whiteboard so that she doesn’t have to write everything down. Previously she had been given a laptop to use, and in a filmed interview at the start of the trial, she spoke of the difference the iPhone had made, because she no longer felt stigmatised by having to carry a laptop.

The trial comes to an end in November. It’s hard to say what happens next, however: in the second year of use, the cost of paying for data on the iPhone becomes prohibitive, and funding looks set to be tight for some time to come. Yet Simon believes that, in a few years’ time, if schools can’t afford to replace existing computers, asking students to bring in their own mobile devices may be the ideal solution: “The iPhone is a very unusual device because of that mix of educational possibility alongside social possibility, and it’s pleasantly surprising that the students are able to manage that balance.”

July 9, 2010

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