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Tagged: cell phones

Ontario Premier Says Cellphones Could Be Useful In The Classroom

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

With schools, cell phones and a politician in the same headline, you’d think the story would be about another attempt to ban technology, but in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty is telling schools to be open to uses for cellphones in the classroom.

McGuinty, who won’t even let his ministers keep the devices during cabinet meetings, said he understands they can be a major distraction, but there is a “right way” to use them in class.

“Telephones and BlackBerrys and the like are conduits for information today, and one of the things we want to do is to be well-informed,” he said. “And it’s something that we should be looking at in our schools.

The issue came up in light of the Toronto District School Board rethinking its blanket ban, and “exploring ways to make [mobile devices] more acceptable.”

Political opponents are already mocking McGuinty, and his government does have a really mixed track record on technology… but the comments here are actually quite reasonable. There’s room between the “discipline theater” approach of a total ban and the teacher’s nightmare scenario of a total free-for-all. A good acceptable use policy would attempt to reduce distractions while not precluding ways in which mobile technology can be helpful in the classroom.

I attended a strict private high school in Toronto from 2001-2005, and we had a blanket ban on electronic devices… but teachers were smart enough to know when it made sense to ignore the ban. I used my PDA to take notes and manage homework in every class, and another student in my year often used a tablet computer. The ban was eventually lifted after I graduated, acknowledging the fact that more and more students were using laptops and mobile devices in ways that helped them learn, while I’m sure they still have a no nonsense policy for students goofing off or distracting others. Rules are needed to minimize bad uses, but that shouldn’t prevent people from exploring good uses.

So, good for McGuinty for recognizing that we’re better off exploring applications for mobile technology in the classroom than simply trying to ban it.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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It’s Not A Phone, It’s A Mobile Computer

Nokia N900
Credit: mackarus [CC BY]

People keep asking me about my new “cell phone,” but the Nokia N900 isn’t a phone. It’s a handheld, mobile computer. Calling it a phone is like calling a house a bed—sleeping is just one thing you do inside a house.

I became interested in the Nokia N900 in the fall, and after a several good reviews, I ordered one off eBay earlier this month. The N900 is the first from a series of Nokia Internet tablets to have cellular capabilities, but the SIM card doesn’t overshadow all the other things you can do with the device—it just frees you to connect to the Internet on the go. The day after it arrived, I signed up with WIND Mobile (another contributing factor to the purchase: leaving Rogers). The combination of a powerful mobile computer, and unlimited 3G data for just $35/month has changed the way I use the Internet.

Yes, it can handle phone calls and SMS messages, but it’s totally arbitrary that a call is a cellular call as opposed to over Google Talk or SIP / VOIP, or that a message is SMS rather than IM; the same applications are used in either case. I can use it as a cell phone, but I can also use it as an Internet tablet, GPS, digital audio player, camera, etc.

Maemo, the operating system that comes installed on the N900, is a fully-featured GNU/Linux distribution. Android shares a common (ish) kernel with other Linux-based distributions, but Maemo has much more in common with the operating system running on my laptop. It uses the same system for finding and installing new software, and it has a lot of the same applications available, since it’s easier to port from other GNU/Linux distributions. Rather than forcing developers to write Java “apps,” Maemo makes a variety of common development environments available. Thus, it’s the first platform to see a Firefox mobile release.

It’s a computer, not a phone. And it’s not just semantics. When we think of mobile computers as merely “phones,” we tolerate restrictions that we would otherwise reject on our computers. How many iPhone users would come to Apple’s defence if they instituted the same strict policies and arbitrary limitations on third-party applications for a Macbook as they do on their mobile computer? (Update: I spoke literally hours too soon.) Recognizing that these devices are really mobile computers is an essential step to gaining control over our mobile computing. Carriers and handset makers control our phones. We should control our own computers.

Google has tried to replace the term “smartphone” with it’s own buzzword — “superphone” — but it’s not just the “smart” part that’s become inadequate. It doesn’t make sense to call these devices “cell phones” anymore than it would make sense to call the buildings we live in “beds.” I have a handheld computer, and my carrier is my ISP.

ps I wrote and edited this post on my N900 using MaStory

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Principal Installs Cellphone Jammer But Forgets To Check If It’s Legal

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

Many educators are having trouble figuring out how to handle electronic devices in the classroom. Some have been educating students on the negative effects, encouraging them to regulate their own use. Others have even highlighted possible applications for mobile devices in the classroom. Though, many just try to ban everything. A principal in British Columbia took his school’s ban to a new level by setting up a cellphone jammer. There was just one problem — the device is illegal in Canada. The principal had ordered the Chinese device online, but some angry students were quick to find out and inform him that he was breaking the law. So much for that idea. Now, he’s left looking pretty bad while cellphone use in school now seems like some kind of civil rights issue to some students.

It seems like this is less about the cellphone ban and more about maintaining authority in the school. On that front… this completely backfired. Plenty of schools have effective cellphone bans without resorting to technological blocks (I attended such a high school). Maybe the principal should explain to students and teachers why cellphones are a problem, set some reasonable guidelines for use and some reasonable consequences for violations of the policy. That would probably go a lot further to establish the principal’s authority and gain his students’ respect than installing an illegal device and being forced to backtrack ever could.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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