A study released today shows that using cell phones in math class improves test results. Well, it seems to show improvement. Skeptics will note the study was financed by cellphone-maker Qualcomm. The New York Times reports it’s an opening salvo in an effort to position cellphones as educational tools.
Some critics already are denouncing the effort as a blatantly self-serving maneuver to break into the big educational market. But proponents of selling cellphones to schools counter that they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s.
9th and 10th grade math students in four North Carolina schools in low-income neighborhoods were given “smartphones” meant to help them with their algebra studies. “The students used the phones for a variety of tasks, including recording themselves solving problems and posting the videos to a private social networking site, where classmates could watch,” the Times reports. “The study found that students with the phones performed 25 percent better on the end-of-the-year algebra exam than did students without the devices in similar classes.”
“Texting, ringing, vibrating,” the AFT’s Janet Bass tells the Times. “Cellphones so far haven’t been an educational tool. They’ve been a distraction.” She adds that it’s “almost laughable that the cellphone industry is pushing a study showing that cellphones will make kids smarter.”
The issue of business interests in education is thorny and tough to unwind. The board of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, for example, has representatives from Intel, HP, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Cisco and other tech companies. While they are wise to be concerned about the capabilities of their future employees, they may also stand to benefit from building their share of the education market. The ability to weigh the interests of sources of information, and think critically about their value is, of course, a key 21st Century skill.