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Cellphones and other disturbing objects...

Students using cellphones in school has been a controversial matter for several years. The technology is sometimes singled out as one of the reasons for the apparently decreasing quality of Swedish elementary school education.

“In the debate about education, cellphones have been used as a rhetorical tool to reinforce political messages,” says Torbjörn Ott, PhD-student at the Department of Applied IT.

Previously Torbjörn has worked as a middle and high school teacher. These experiences serve him well in his research since he is actually investigating what happens when new technologies, such as cellphones and computer tablets, are introduced in schools.

Torbjörn’s research has received international recognition, and this spring, he was invited to present part of his work at an international conference about mobile learning. By analyzing news articles in two popular Swedish periodicals Torbjörn has examined the tone public conversation about cellphone in school.

The Cellphone: An impediment to learning?

“Early in the 2000’s, students’ cellphones were categorized as one of several objects of distraction in school; a depiction that was reinforced by the statements of both left and right wing politicians,” says Torbjörn. “This resulted in legislation that granted teachers the right to confiscate students’ cellphones in class. After this happened, it appears that the topic lost some of its attraction for most politicians.”

There is no doubt that technological innovations in the classroom are controversial, but the debate does not reflect the fact that most teachers do not propose to forbid cellphones in school completely. On the other hand, neither have they suggested that cellphones should be used in teaching and learning.

New Perspectives in the Debate

A certain change can be noticed in the debate, according to Torbjörn. Some politicians and pundits seem to have realized that cellphone can be utilized constructively in teaching.

“Beginning in 2009, there are some politicians who suggest mobile technology should be applied in the classroom. For example, in an opinion piece from 2011 , the chair of the Moderate part youth association argue that schools new to become better at using modern technology in the classroom.

“There is a perception that student performance can be enhanced by establishing rules that limit access to new technology,” says Torbjörn. “However, in doing so, we also risk limiting students’ ability to adapt to the life outside the classroom by depriving them of potentially powerful pedagogical tools.”