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The Modern Alternative Learning Resource: Time To Drop The Ban On Phones In Schools?

Robert Currie discusses the mobile phone’s role in education, and how thanks in part to AR and VR it should now be considered a top tool.

As one of the many ‘hats’ that I have to wear in my current job, I am often interacting with the education system, from school through to university, and I typically find myself wondering why are teachers still locked into using delivery methods that were considered old when I was at school? There has always been a stigma about mobile phones within the classroom, and when I was at school I could understand why, this was before the day of smartphones and as such they had no use within a classroom. These days almost all mobile phones hiding in the pockets of kids are smart phones, and usually good ones at that, such is the need of the current school generation. Yet despite all this processing and interactive power, mobile phones are still outlawed in the vast majority of schools during lesson time, which I feel is a massive disservice to the students’ ability to learn and engage in subject content.

BETT 2018 - Google EducationNow I will say before I get into ways to utilise what kids already have, there are schools and colleges out there that actively do develop ways of using smart phones within the class, but we are still talking about the minority unfortunately. Obviously, we must consider that the education system is largely locked into what is demanded of them by the curriculum that is set, and some subjects are less applicable to a tech solution than others. I genuinely feel that given some proper thought most lessons can incorporate a smart phone into its delivery. Below are just some of my thoughts on lessons that could benefit from this addition of mobile technology.


History has always been for many, a dry and beige topic at best (though for myself it was fascinating) This has always made it hard to engage the wider class, save for a few historians like I was. The reason being is that it’s a lot of reading text, looking at images or re-enactments that are typically not the most authentic or well-acted things ever.

Instead of being stuck behind paragraphs in a book, teachers should have access to interactive content that students can access via apps on their phone, this app could allow students turn a table top into an augmented reality (AR)battlefield, act as the commander to move the troops and ultimately see the outcome of the battle. This offers a chance for the kids to see historic moments from a different view point, and interact with it, altering the mechanics and being able to understand the consequences of certain actions within those scenarios.

Android mobile phones would allow students to become immersed into virtual reality (VR) experiences where they can get a first-person perspective on living in that period, having to carry out typical tasks of the time interacting with virtual objects, allowing for a greater appreciation for the challenges of that era.

Irish history VRScience

Science was once a subject that was a favourite, and still is, amongst most students thanks in large part due to the fact there is a strong practical element during lessons, through experiments. However, as regulations, health and safety and the like become stricter, the number of cool things kids can do in the classroom is dwindling.

The best way to get around this is again using interactive experiences on phones, simply through gamification of the learning experience. Students could be tasked with mixing chemicals in VR, carefully having to measure out amounts, using instruments to monitor changes. This can all be done using the controllers supplied with Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR headsets, allowing for the precision needed in experiment scenarios. Even if budget was an issue, and with education it usually is, being immersed in 360⁰ video demonstrations using Google Cardboard headsets would be a positive start as a use case for further investment.

The major advantage being there is no risk to a student as it is all digital, eliminating the health and safety issues that are limiting practical sessions from currently being carried out. With all things that have an element of gamification, a competitive element could be introduced to get students to naturally want to do better to be the best, through a level system or leader board.

HoloLAB ChampionsEnglish

English is and has always been about a lot of reading, there is no escaping it, nor should there be. That does not mean that students should be stuck just reading books upon books, carrying large piles of novels, papers and the like. Even something as simple as E-books would be a move in the right direction, allowing students to download them onto their phone, also getting rid of the excuses of leaving content at home by said students.

However, being able to maximise a student’s ability to become truly invested in the subject matter, why not allow them to go through the story as one of the characters. Empathy is a major part of being able to get engaged with a topic, it has been thoroughly explored that with VR, empathy can quickly and impactfully applied to the situation being explored. This does not have to be a fully interactive process, it could just be seen through the eyes of a selected character, giving students a choice of who to follow through the story and being able to see how things play out from different points of view, even gleaming insight from the inner thoughts of the character being followed.

Books can have AR markers embedded into their pages, giving the ability to see the page play out as an animation or interactive scene, this again catering for those who have different learning styles or difficulties. The act of reading is essential, but arguably the aim of many books is to create an emotional empathetic response in their reader, and to be able to continue to engage with a modern audience, the delivery needs to become more diverse.

Reading In The Dark 01Other subjects

As I stated, technically any subject could embrace the mobile phone and EdTech resource within their content, however the above I feel are some of the subjects that might have the biggest impact in terms of engagement. Computing lessons could utilise phones as an entry level device to learn to develop VR or AR experiences, giving students the opportunity at a younger age to begin to learn the skills that are becoming more crucial than even to be developed on mass. Mathematics would benefit from gamification of mathematical problems, catering for different learning styles and allowing students to come at the problem from a different angle that just works better for them. Art and other creative subjects could use phones as research or art pads letting students draw directly onto the screen for sketching before moving onto a larger scale final drawing, or even as far as utilising VR art tools, turning the controller into the brush and pen.

Tilt Brush - Audio Reactive_1Ultimately it is about the schools being willing to lift the stigma of mobile phones in schools and searching for new and innovative ways of bringing them back into the classroom, making subject content presented in a more relevant way to the audience it is meant for. Just as other industries have had to move with the times to stay competitive, so to do schools in their education methods.