Students at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, N.C., were given cellphones with programs to help with algebra studies. A teacher at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, N.C., told that the special cellphones helped students improve their math skills. Some critics already are denouncing the effort as a blatantly self-serving maneuver to break into the big educational market. But proponents of selling cellphones to schools counter that they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s. The only difference now between smartphones and laptops, they say, is that cellphones are smaller, cheaper and more coveted by students. On Tuesday, Digital Millennial will release findings from its study of four North Carolina schools in low-income neighborhoods, where ninth- and 10th-grade math students were given high-end cellphones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile software and special programs meant to help them with their algebra studies.
The students used the phones for a variety of tasks, including recording themselves solving problems and posting the videos to a private social networking site, where classmates could watch. The study found that students with the phones performed 25 % better on the end-of-the-year algebra exam than did students without the devices in similar classes. The students also were allowed 900 minutes of talk time and 300 text messages a month to use outside of class. Teachers monitored the messages and reprimanded students if any of the activity violated the school's standards. Critics point out that access to such communications usually detracts from the overall time students spent thinking about studies. That is why at least 10 states, and many other school districts, have outright bans on cellphones on school premises. For the industry, however, there is a lot of money at stake. Schools now spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computers to provide an average of one computer for every three students, at a cost of US$1,000 a year for each machine. Bill Rust, an education and technology analyst at the Gartner Group, a research firm, said smartphones could help in some aspects of education. But he said that computers and their larger screens offer a range of teaching opportunities, in addition to helping students to write papers and do research online.