Cell phones in schools are usually discussed in the context of being banned or the latest sexting scandal. And yet among progressive educators there is often the thought that our students will be entering a workforce where their most important skill will be retrieving, synthesizing, and using vast information stores quickly and efficiently. How will the countless terabytes of data often be accessed?
If you said "On a smartphone," you're probably correct. Sure, knowledge workers will access and create information on a variety of devices. As many sources have pointed out recently, the corporate desktop PC is hardly dead, but its importance is diminishing as content becomes increasingly mobile and access to that content necessarily becomes ubiquitous.
Which leads us back to phones in schools. Should we actually be welcoming them into our schools as the 1:1 devices they could be? Could we just forget about netbooks and laptops and let students use a phone to access web resources, communicate with teachers, and collaborate with peers? The smartphone, after all, is an essential tool in business. Isn't exploiting its full capabilities a set of 21st Century Skills?
I'm not actually advocating for this model yet. I'm still pondering just how much more of a distraction it would be from learning and just how it could be well-managed in an educational setting. There is, however, one phone that has been getting a whole lot of attention in the last few days that just might be manageable in a school. The so-called Google Phone, about which plenty of rumors and little fact have flown in the last few days, provides us with an interesting thought exercise if nothing else.
When the Verizon Droid was rooted, geeks were thrilled because they could enable features supported by the phone hardware but not supported or enabled by Verizon. An unlocked Android phone could, quite plausibly, support educational applications or allow for control and management within a school setting. Want to turn off texting during school hours? There would be an app for that. How about disabling the voice feature and enabling only WiFi? How about content filtering? These things could happen, but certainly couldn't happen on a phone traditionally sold through a carrier. Don't want to roll out WiFi for all of your students, but have solid cellular service in your building? They could all be online. Want to enable bluetooth devices like wireless keyboards for more substantial text input? That's doable, too.
The Google Phone might not be it. It sounds as though it will be GSM-only which could be somewhat limiting. But the concept is worth some consideration. Although more schools are moving towards a 1:1 model, nobody has said that 1:1 has to mean laptops or netbooks. An Android-powered phone that could be managed in a really open and innovative way in a school just might bring a lot more computing capability to a lot more students in a way that's really relevant to their experiences outside of and after school.