Giving students gadgets - ranging from Nintendo games consoles to iPhones - has helped them stay engaged in learning and may have improved results, according to the official verdict on a mobile learning project.
Evaluating the Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET) initiative, which saw #163;10 million of gadgets purchased over two years for 48 participating schools and colleges, the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) said a large majority of students and staff believed the technology had improved learning.
Some specialist subjects saw dramatic results. Land-based Capel Manor College gave level 2 and 3 students handheld computers and electronic measuring equipment which allowed them to carry out surveys with industry-standard technology and work on the data in the field.
In plant and soil science courses, the failure rate almost disappeared, down from 40 per cent the previous year, while most other subjects saw a strong trend of falling failure rates and a greater number of distinctions.
Redbridge College found that students on MoLeNET programmes were on average 5 per cent more likely to succeed. Similar results were found on some courses at Gloucestershire College, where engineering and construction students used Nintendo DSi handhelds and Sony PSPs to capture their work on video for assessment.
The report said problems ranging from accessing "inappropriate" images, running up bills with premium texting services, and stealing, damaging or losing the devices had occurred on only a few occasions.
"Several colleges reported that their initial concerns soon disappeared and one project manager said how impressed they had been with the level of maturity shown by learners," the LSN evaluation said.
The project also raised the possibility that colleges might have to revise policies on mobile phone use.
Joseph Priestley College reported initial concerns that students might misbehave with mobile technology, having experienced problems with students' use of their own mobile phones. But in practice, they found that students responded well to being able to text staff directly instead of phoning the college reception, and enjoyed direct feedback.
The report said in one instance a tutor texted students working in the learning centre to let them know their session was finished, then followed up by joking: "And why is your mobile switched on in the learning centre?"