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Texting takes the pain out of learning

Itz midday man - R U comin 2 clg 2 improve yr english amp; mafs o wt? While teachers usually ban mobile phones from lessons, one college is handing them out to potential and reluctant students. Pembrokeshire College uses the latest combined mobile phones and hand-held computers to target 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training in remote communities.

College tutors use messaging - often in texting language - to keep in touch with students and encourage them to study. The "smart" phones also come with a folding keyboard, and students can use them for word processing, e-mails and accessing the internet.

Out of 56 teenagers recruited, 10 have started other courses or found employment, 11 dropped out, while 35 are still on the project.

Geoff Elliott, Pembrokeshire College's learning technology manager, said:

"There is a risk associated with giving a piece of nice shiny kit to a person who might be a bit shiftless.

"But one of the issues in dealing with this group of people is that they have low self-esteem, and if you then show them any sense of trust or interest, it's really good for them."

There were some teething troubles with a small minority of students. One racked up a phone bill of several hundred pounds before the college imposed a Pounds 30-a-month limit.

And then there was the risk of theft. "We had one phone that, in inverted commas, `fell in the water'," said Mr Elliott. "Whether that was lost or stolen was debatable."

The college was part of a project to develop and try out mobile learning materials for teachers and tutors, including "learning games" and texting multiple-choice quizzes for students to answer on their phones.

A new report on the project published by the Learning and Skills Network finds benefits in mobile learning for students and staff. Tutors found that it added another dimension to teaching, broadened learning in the classroom and could be an asset for revision.

Students were also enthusiastic. Sixty-two per cent said they were keener to take part in future studying after trying mobile learning. Just under a third developed a more positive attitude towards reading.

The study found that it helped improve literacy and numeracy skills, helped remove formality from the learning experience and engaged reluctant learners.

The phones cost pound;36,000 in EU funding over three years.

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