Mobile Phones

These devices use radio-type technology to simulate traditional telephone-type conversations for users on the go. Once an extravagant novelty, mobile phones have become a near necessity in developed nations throughout the world. The forerunners of modern mobile phone technology came about in the 1950s and 1960s, as engineers began to develop signal-transmitting devices capable of picking up transmission tower frequencies in multiple areas. Martin Cooper of Motorola Corporation is widely regarded as making the world's first cellular telephone call on April 3, 1973.
cell-phone-tower6.jpgA modern mobile phone transmitting tower near Greenville, SC. From Howstuffworks.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, mobile phones were too large to fit in purses or pockets. During this time, they were typically seen in nylon bags, about the size of a shoe box. Phones at this time were also directly installed into vehicles with antennas hard-mounted to the vehicle roof. As the number of towers increased and technological miniaturization accelerated, phones were eventually made small enough for handheld use in the mid 1990s. Mobile phone antennas were also greatly reduced in size, to the point today where many phones have no external antenna.

Mobile Phones are becoming more than just a voice communication device. Many phones now include digital cameras as well as internet access and text messaging capabilities. The Apple I-Phone can be used to check E-mail, browse the web, play movies, play MP3s, and view Podcasts. This device has the same functions as many Personal Digital Entertainment Devices.

Mobile Phones in our Schools

In the last decade, mobile phone use in the educational setting has increased dramatically. No longer just a tool for the rich, these devices have filtered down into the hands of children - some young enough to be in prekindergarten. This poses several issues. To many students, mobile phones have become a way of constantly communicating with their peers (even during school). This constant communication has served to be somewhat of a distraction to their learning. Increased cell-phone use may even be linked to future health problems (The Age Education). Also, their small size and inconspicuousness has led to many incidents of cheating - as the students may take pictures of the testing material or text (SMS) others answers.

Australia has been testing the use of mobile phones in their Flexible Learning Framework project txt me. The project examined whether mobile phone technology can be used as a motivator as well as a tool to support collaborative and networked learning environments. The project focused on "disengaged learners" and tried to use a technology (mobile phones) that the audience was comfortable and had adopted.

Some benefits to mobile phone technology is that students already have mobile phones and the barrier to entry is relatively low. Also, with convergent technology like internet connectivity, media playback (SMS and MMS), voice recording, and photography capabilities the mobile phones really can be used in the field for research and information gathering.

Even in collegiate courses, mobile phones can be a distraction:

It is easy to forget what life was like before mobile phones. Banks of pay phones in most public buildings that could ring at inconvenient times, people standing in line for their turn to make a call, rides missed because of mis-communications and anxious parents in evening classes afraid their children needed something. Cell phones have increased or mobility and social flexibility in unanticipated ways. Recently, a student was admonished for taking a call in class, but explained it was her parole officer calling to verify where she was and what she was doing, and that the phone was a condition of parole. This was later confirmed with the students' case worker. So while we sometimes dislike the intrusion, there are benefits.