Union Leader 4 U

Mobile Hell

“Union leader calls for review of mobile phone ban in classrooms”, says the Observer. Really? Perhaps so. After all, the article later declares: “In schools where children were provided with handheld computers with phone and internet access to use in lessons, teachers have reported very little misuse, according to David Whyley, the headteacher consultant for Learning2Go, a scheme that has been run for five years at 18 primary and secondary schools in Wolverhampton.”
Organisations like Learning2Go still peddle the idea that mobile devices and other new pieces of technology will better engage and motivate students. How so? As part of the post-technological generation, we are fully aware that the IT revolution has often promised more than it can offer and have seen how new electronic devices have become a nuisance and, in the case of mobile phones, a danger to the public.

However, what is the evidence for Learning2Go’s claims? The website’s Evaluation and Impact sections breaks down into 4 sections.

“* Critial (sic) friend – external evaluation and ongoing project consultancy
* Local Authority – Monitoring support and evaluation of impact
* External evaluation – project evaluation by external agencies
* Partner and press reporting – investigating and reporting by the press

“Right from the outset, evaluation of the Learning2Go initiative has been absolutely essential.” And so it ought to be. Looking at this critically,

“Critial (sic) friend – external evaluation and ongoing project consultancy

This has been provided throughout the project by David Perry of David Perry associates. David was author of the BECTA Handhelds report in 2003 and has provided external evaluation reporting and arms length consultancy in order to enable the project to learn dynamically from its successes and challenges. 2 reports are available for download from the download page.” Okay. Let’s take a look at those reports…well, we would if they were there but they aren’t. How about David Perry associates website? There is a link to a BECTA report (more on them later) but it’s dead. A quick Google search led to the report. The methodolgy section, if you can call it that, says the following:

“There have been two phases to the project. In the first phase, which began in April 2002, leadership teams in a mixture of 27 schools were equipped with Compaq iPAQs using PocketPC and asked to keep a monthly log of their use. The schools were chosen from those
whose headteachers had participated in the pilot of the course, ‘The Strategic Leadership of ICT’ jointly organised by Becta, NCSL and NAACE. There were 16 primary schools, seven secondaries, two infant,
one special and one middle school in this initial phase. Each of these schools was equipped with a set of accessories including detachable keyboards, PC jackets and ‘presenter-to-go’ attachments for
connecting to data projectors.

In the second phase, a further two secondary and two primary schools were selected and equipped with a
class set and accessories, with the majority of the teachers being given their own PDA. One secondary and one primary school were given Palm m130s using PalmOS and the other secondary and primary were given iPAQs. These schools were chosen because of existing ICT expertise or involvement with PDAs. Accessories given to these schools included detachable keyboards, ‘thumb’ keyboards, global
positioning system (GPS) devices, datalogging devices, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless network cards, and data projection attachments.
Altogether, more than 150 teachers are using these technologies and there are about 100 devices available to students. Unfortunately, it was not possible to co-ordinate the equipping of schools and the provision of training. So far, schools have been given literature but nothing else apart from what they have been able to organise themselves. Training for the teachers focused on both strands of the project and has been taking place since January 2003.

Research activities were carried out on Becta’s behalf by Questions Answered of York. This comprised: desk research to identify other relevant initiatives; an analysis of the project participants’ work logs;
a telephone survey of PDA users in companies, government and various strands of education; a second telephone survey of Becta project schools; and finally, interviews in selected project schools.”

Before we get to the research carried out by Questions Answered, let’s just scrutinise this methodology. Ideally, we would like it to be radnomised and placebo-controlled.

Okay. Was the study randomised? “Schools were chosen from those
whose headteachers had participated in the pilot of
the course”
doesn’t sound randomised.
Placebo-controlled? Not at all. Telling your participants about the study and why your conducting it beforehand is certainly not a means of nullifying the cultural effects of the research. The Hawthorne effect, in other words, is not countered.

Okay. How about a control group i.e. something to compare it with? No. Nothing.

Let’s look at Questions Answered’s website. Anything there? No becaue they don’t exist. No website. We have a record of what they were said to have completed but as the study was neither randomised nor placebo-controlled it leaves a lot to be desired.

It makes you wonder what on earth is going on at the other 3 sources of evaluation and impact: the Local Authority, external evaluation and the press.

You may ask why be so critical of such projects when we live in the technology era and young people of the future will have to fully incorporate IT and the Internet into their daily lives?

These projects cost a LOT of money. They also demand a lot from parents, with those on low incomes perhaps pestered into buying devices that their children could do without. On Learning2Go, the source of financing is spelt out as:

” * Device – Joint funded by Parents / school over 2 years or 100 payments
* Content/ Memory card – Funded via e – learning credits
* Wireless infrastructure – School funded
* Insurance – included in device price and joint funded as above.”

Unbelievably, this expensive educational fantasy is still being promoted by interested parties even though there is no reseearch on this view at least that suggests it makes any LONG-TERM difference that can be attributable to the introducation of electronic devices.

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