Monday, 29 June 2009

Mobile Tech and the Incentive to Learn

 I came across this story in a roundabout kind of way.

Droga5, an advertising agency, has recently won two prestigious black pencil awards at the D&AD awards. The first was for its viral video campaign featuring Sarah Silverman, 'The Great Schlep', which was used to empower and motivate older Jewish voters in America to vote for President Obama in last year's election.

The other award, which is what interests me more, is for a radical educational program currently being tested in New York.

The Million Motivation program sees students from the most deprived backgrounds being issued with adapted Samsung mobile phones. These can't be used to make calls during the school day, but come with a range of learning apps integrated into the phone.

What makes the program most interesting though is the way the contract for the phone operates. Rather than pay with cash, students earn air time and the ability to get downloads via hard work and good behaviour. The more 'points' a teaacher gives out the more time the student can talk, text, web browse, and so on.

There are , of course, always risks related to these sorts of incentive based programs, and the Digital Journal has a good article that outlines the scheme and delves into these. Principally, there's the risk that doing anything for something leads to skewed intellectual and moral values regarding the benefit of study.

On the other hand, with drop out and failure rates as high as they are amongst disadvantaged groups in the Big Apple, anything's worth a shot. Academic support is provided by Harvard University's newly founded Ed Labs, that's looking for scientific solutions to educational problems, taking an analytical R&D multi-disciplinary approach. The results of their various projects should make for fascinating reading.

In the meantime, we shall have to wait and see what benefits or hindrances the Million Motivation program brings. Let's hope, for the sake of the children taking part, it works. 

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