Learning by smartphone 'makes pupils smarter': Research

Project shows improvement in ability to answer open-ended questions

Primary school pupils who use smartphones in classroom learning have shown a marked improvement in their ability to answer open-ended questions and speak up in class.

A research project has found an 18 per cent increase over a year in the pupils' ability to gather information and answer open-ended questions in English classes.

For science classes, the improvement was 27 per cent over three years.

The project was conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Education, University of Michigan and University of North Texas.

They studied Primary 3 pupils from Nan Chiau Primary School who have been using smartphones with learning applications during English and science classes since 2008.

The smartphone initiative was first piloted in 2008 with a select group of Primary 3 pupils. Last year, the programme was named WE Learn and expanded to all 350 Primary 3 pupils.

One of the applications on the smartphone, Sketchy, enables pupils to create animations to show how plants grow.

The WE Learn project was funded by US-based chipmaker Qualcomm, which paid for the Nokia Lumia 710 smartphones used by the pupils as its corporate social responsibility initiative. The programme was also supported by the Ministry of Education, which provided a research grant. Nan Chiau is one of its eight Future Schools, which serve as test beds for classroom technology.

Referring to the project, Dr Cathie Norris of the University of North Texas said: "They can get information from the device in their hands. They don't have to see someone else to find the answer.

"What teachers are seeing is that the children are gaining their voice... They feel confident about talking and answering questions."

Nan Chiau's principal Tan Chun Ming said the improvements came in tandem with a revamped curriculum that encourages pupils to be independent and inquisitive learners.

Teacher Jenny Lee, 33, said: "During science classes, I asked my pupils to give me examples of mammals. Normally, they would give the names of common mammals such as lions or tigers.

But those who used smartphones were able to come up with answers such as "elephant shrew", as they had chanced upon it while doing research online, she said.

The school will expand the programme to include 300 more pupils from its current batch of Primary 3 pupils.

Mr Tan said around six to 10 other schools have also expressed interest in adapting the project for their use.

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