Mobile phones improve literacy, say researchers

Many principals want to ban mobile phones in school without realising they can be a valuable tool for improving literacy, university researchers claim.

In Australia the mobile phone has become as much a part of the school uniform for many children as the wide-brimmed hat they wear to protect them from the sun's burning rays.

Australian surveys have found that 19 per cent of six to 13-year-olds now own a mobile phone and children as young as six use them to send text messages to their friends or call mum to pick them up.

Of those with a mobile, nearly three in four used them to play games, more than half to call parents or family members and 52 per cent for text messaging.

Now researchers at Melbourne university are conducting trials in schools and technical colleges to see how mobile phones can boost learning and claim to be achieving remarkable success.

Instead of seeing mobiles as simply communication devices, they say they can serve as hand-held computers, as the next stage along from laptops.

High-tech phones provided by Nokia in Finland are being used in the trial.

Apart from making calls, they can access the internet while the megapixel camera is used to take still images or record up to 10 minutes of video.

In an article in the journal Professional Educator, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young, a Melbourne university researcher, says it is time to give mobile phones a new name.

"It's understandable that many educators view these phones as a huge distraction, dreadful intrusions and tools of the evil 'snapperazi'.

"But as with all tools of learning, once a purpose is established, mobile devices will have a role to play," she says.

A rationale behind the Melbourne project was that students are using technology they value and with which they feel comfortable.

In the trials, students have used the phones' cameras to create "digital stories" and share information. For some students who find writing difficult, the phones have improved their literacy.

As an example, Dr Hartnell-Young refers to three boys from Palmerston high school in the Northern Territory who are using the phones to develop their writing and reading skills: capturing images, writing about them, and emailing the work to friends, families and teachers.

The school's principal said he had been looking for something to excite disengaged students and had been "overwhelmed by the resulting enthusiasm".

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