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Project: Handy




General project data

Country   Switzerland
Year   2007
Project owner and copyright holder   Rolf Deubelbeiss, Nationale Elitesportschule Thurgau/ Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich
Contact   Rolf Deubelbeiss, Nationale Elitesportschule Thurgau/ Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich

Project language


Types of mobile devices


Further media


Number of learners involved


Number of teachers involved



  3 weeks +



Educational establishment


Phase of education


Subject domain


Teaching/learning focus

  Support learning with mobile devices; reflect on usage habits and etiquette


  Multimodal content creation; transformative; knowledge building); microlearning; m-maturity/technical literacy; archive; sustainability; peer-teaching; languages; Mathematics; everyday life; expert scheme; genre

Data submitted by

  Judith Seipold , London Mobile Learning Group (LMLG)



Context / rationale

The ’Handy’ project was realised by a teacher, Rolf Deubelbeiss, in a Swiss private secondary school (intermediate school [Realschule] and grammar school [Gymnasium]) with a specialism in sports (Nationale Elitesportschule Thurgau 2007). 60 pupils and one teacher were involved in this project. The envisaged project duration was three weeks, but had to be extended because the teacher was confronted with some minor obstacles such as missing technological compatibility (see also top 5 lessons learnt/ issues emerging). The teacher had no technical support: he installed the weblog and uploaded the students’ learning units at his own expense. The mobile phones were the property of the students and the teacher.


Approaches to teaching and learning

The mobile phone was used as learning tool as well as a topic of inquiry. The aim of the project was to demonstrate the value of mobile phones for school, but to inform and to support pupils about and in the use of their mobile phones, i.e. to help pupils to use the mobile phones effectively and to amend the school‘s mobile phone-rules. This included not only making students aware of the expenses they might incur by using their mobile phones; the teacher also intended to show them how mobile phones can be used in school contexts and thus for learning, as well as for broaching the issue of formal aspects of telephone conversations (e.g. with view to applying for jobs or to communicate in formalised environments).

The mobile phone as topic

Regarding the mobile phone as topic, the aims were as follows (Deubelbeiss 2007a):

  • “Handy-Knigge: Gebote, Verbote und Gesetzeslage in der Schweiz” (rules, prohibitions, legal situation in Switzerland)
  • “Handy als Schuldenfalle” (mobile phone as “debt trap”)
  • “Handy als Lernhilfe und Lifestyle” (mobile phone as learning help and lifestyle)
  • “Handy-Technik und Entwicklung der Kommunikationsformen” (mobile phone technology and development of modes of communication)

The teacher provided these topics as well as the general aims to parents for information purposes in advance.

The teacher used the “Dossier Handy” (Schweizer Fernsehen 2003) from the Swiss school TV, (which is about the debt trap mobile phone, radiation, SMS-generation and communication, as well as information provided by the police of the Kanton Zürich about violence and porn on mobile phones (Kanton Zürich 2004). A freely accessible webquest (Vadas et al. 2007) was used to post questions about the content of the “Dossier Handy” to the students after they have watched the film on the websites of the Swiss school TV.

The mobile phone as learning tool

For the practical part of the project, pupils used their own mobile phones. There was no external financial or technical support – except for the engagement of the teacher. Pupils were asked to work on a topic in German, French or Mathematics with a view to producing “microlearning content”. Pupils were free to choose the school subject, as well as the media format (film, picture, sound or text); for the teacher, it was more important that pupils solve a task and produce “microcontent” in keeping with curricular aims and objectives. The microcontent in the form of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) was saved as drafts and distributed via Bluetooth to the teacher’s mobile phone (Deubelbeiss 2007b). The teacher revised language and orthography, and uploaded the small units with his mobile phone/USB to a public weblog.

According to the teacher, some of the pictures, which were used by the pupils, were already available on their phones, and thus not produced explicitly for the exercise (see e.g. the Limerick and the Syntax example below). Other pictures, such as the path-time-diagram, were taken from the textbook. In most cases the teacher had to take a leading role and direct pupils towards being “creative” in composing the microcontent units (e.g. path-time-diagram).


Technologies and requirements

The weblog, as public place to store pupils’ learning units, was installed and hosted by the teacher. After the project was finished, pupils could access the material on the weblog, download it and use it as small learning units. Actually, the pupils produced more examples than provided on the weblog. The weblog contains only the “best practice” examples, as the teacher stressed. The tendency was that “good” and successful pupils liked to see their results on the internet; less good pupils, on the other hand, did not want to publish their artefacts. Besides the intention of the teacher to show exemplary results, this was another reason why the weblog contains “best practice” examples only. Additionally, and due to the high expense of mobile blogging at the time of the project, the teacher was the only person, who uploaded the results of pupils’ work on the weblog in order to minimise expense for pupils.


Project outcomes

The following examples were produced by pupils, the teacher and a student teacher in the subjects of Mathematics, German and French (see

  • Mathematics: The path-time diagram
  • German: Limerick
  • German: Syntax
  • French: Passé composé
  • French: “M. est plus grand que”
  • French: Objet (in)direct
  • French: Le comparative

Further project outcomes, such as reading and orthography tests with reference to the webquest, the e-lesson of the Kanton Zürich police and the Dossier Handy, are not available on the internet because they were of relevance for the assessment of pupils.


Lessons learnt / issues emerging

The originally anticipated duration of the project, namely three weeks, was extended by the teacher. There are mainly three reasons for this:

One reason was that that it was not as easy as assumed to deal with the different models of mobile phones – in terms of compatibility and media convergence.

Second, the teacher misjudged the pupils’ abilities to deal with all the required functions of the mobile phones (e.g. being able to produce MMS or to know how to use Bluetooth). This, again, was partly due to the wide range of technologies, which the pupils had at their disposal: some students had the latest models of mobile phones with a high quality camera, internet connectivity, and memory space. Other students only had old mobile phones from their parents available, and were able to produce text messages only.

Third, the project was implemented in a school where mobile phones are banned from the classroom as well as from the wider school area. However, students were free to choose one of their subjects to produce the microcontent. For this purpose, they had to ask teachers of the respective subject before or during the lesson if they were allowed to use the mobile phone to e.g. take a picture or type a text. According to the teacher, this was not always easy because pupils might have interrupted the flow of the lesson, or other pupils got so interested in the mobile activities that the noise level disturbed the class.


Recommendations and future possibilities

The acceptance of mobile technologies for curricular learning in schools might be supported with projects like the ’Handy’ project, which is referring to mobile phones as topics and as tools for learning. The teacher did not only initiate a critical reflection of the pupils’ usage habits, and discussed aspects, which indicate dangers for young people, but he also showed how to productively use the mobile phone for learning. By referring to the idea of producing micro units, he adopted the concept of user-generated content through elementarisation of the learning material. On the other hand, and by posting these learning units on a public weblog, he made learning material accessible for others, who are free to use these materials for their own purposes.

With emerging technologies and lower costs for e.g. the access of internet and distribution of MMS technological interoperability might increase. This could be helpful for teachers and learners who are confronted with high costs for the distribution of their self-produced learning materials. Also, the ad-hoc access to and immediate distribution of information might be facilitated. However, such developments cannot hide the fact that the latest mobile technologies are available for a small group of users only, and that there will still be a group of learners which is not equipped with the latest models but with the parents’ old and discarded devices.


Replicability and transferability

Students with their mobile phones and as experts succeed in making the connection between typical modes of representation of knowledge in terms of school and their everyday life. By doing so, they show what ideas they have about teaching methods and which might be their preferred teaching and learning methods, respecting the “affordance” of the specific technology. Therefore, if teachers allow integrating mobile devices, such as children’s mobile phones, in the classroom and in open teaching and learning, they allow at the same time learner-generated contents and contexts (see Cook et al. 2007 and Chapter 2.6). Those might be based on individual, and maybe less formal learning processes, and might include modes of representation, which are not originally coming from school contexts, thus not from formal settings for learning. As schemes for validating knowledge that is gained in informal contexts and processes, children can make use of their experiences, needs, demands, competencies etc. Such patterns, seen as frame for acquisition and estimation, are the link between children’s everyday life and school. From this perspective, the Handy project seems to us to be a good showcase for the idea of supporting the learners in their status as experts, and to accept their expertise and interests – also of supposedly irrelevant things – as agentive and meaningful initial points for school learning.

The didactic setting, as well as the technological requirements, allow teachers to reproduce this project easily with only minor cost. The added value, which is given through the availability of the “micro-units” on a weblog, might be an incentive to see such projects not only as temporary events, but as initiatives with a certain academic sustainability as well as a basis for modular learning and peer-teaching.


Recommended literature and references

Deubelbeiss, R. (2007a) 'Das Handy an der NET. Verbote, Gebote, Lifestyle, Jugendkultur, Lernhilfe … ? Begleitbrief an Eltern. Nationale Elitesportschule Thurgau.' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (2007b) 'Rahmenbedingungen Projekt "Handy".' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007c) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - Weg-Zeit-Diagramm (Fabian, 3. Sek.).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007d) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - Elfchen (Thamara, 1. Sek.).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007e) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - Satzglieder (Marco, 3. Sek.).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007f) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - Handy-Video zu Passé composé (Yannick, 2. Real und Marco, 2. Sek).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007g) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - M. est plus grand que… (Adi, 2. Sek.).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007h) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - Französisch: Objet (in)direct (von Ff, Praktikantin).' Available at:

Deubelbeiss, R. (Ed.) (2007i) 'Beispiel-Sammlung - le comparatif (S2).' Available at:

Kanton Zürich (2004) 'Gewalt und Pornografie auf dem Handy (E-Lesson). Kantonspolizei - Sicherheitsdirektion - Internet Kanton Zürich.' Available at:

Schweizer Fernsehen (SF) (2003) 'Dossier Handy. SF Wissen mySchool, SF 1.' Available at:

Vadas, N.; Ellenberger, J.; Hollenstein, S. (2007) 'Dossier Handy.' Webquest zum Film "Dossier Handy".' Available at:


Project analysis

Approaches to teaching and learning

By having a first look at the project outcomes, the product orientation of this project is striking. The teacher gave his pupils a task, which required learners not only to reproduce knowledge, but to gather information, to reflect on the content and an adequate mode of representation, and to create a learning unit with which others are potentially able to learn. The idea to produce micro units is based on the concept of ‘microlearning’. Microlearning can be described as miniaturisation, fragmentation and ‘elementarisation’ of learning material as well as short-term learning activities (see e.g. Hug, 2007 and Chapter 2.6). Learning takes place here through an assembly of modular learning units by the learner. The form of the material, in this case explicit learning material, was defined by the teacher in advance, who created - through his project design - a way of scaffolding the students’ individualised experiences towards their own meaning-making process as well as towards meaning, which is central to school discourses (i.e. learning material) and which can be used as basis for a common and objectified meaning-making process.

A byproduct is peer-teaching in a wider sense, as the learning material, which the pupils produced, is available for others. Additionally, the teacher might have addressed the pupils as “experts” for a specific subject area, or the pupils might have defined themselves as experts for certain tasks. However, the fact that the learning material, which others have to work with, has to be understandable and comprehensive presumes that the students producing the material are experts in the respective subject area.


Agency, structure, cultural practice, notions of mobility and user-generated contents and contexts

Even if mobile phones were used as tool for the production of teaching units, the notions of mobility in this example refer mainly to mobility between contexts, i.e. everyday life and school. Physical mobility seems to be of minor importance for the project as pupils are using the devices in the classroom only, without being obliged to be physically mobile in order to fulfil the learning task. In this regard, the cognitive achievement of the students, which we consider to be key rather than a glossy product, should not be underestimated because they successfully combined not only different modes, but also different contexts and different meanings. Students appear to be well versed in the production of learning material, in the organisation of discontinuous multimodal texts, as well as in particular literary genres. They demonstrate that they are able to generate and (re)produce knowledge, reflect on it, choose a teaching mode and a mode of representation of learning material, which they consider to be adequate or representative for specific teaching and learning purposes and contexts, or which best meets a specific affordance. This transformation process seems to be captured in the reflection and learning process, which is information retrieval with the purpose of information provision. Also, pupils reconfigure their everyday life knowledge according to existing conceptual frames with relevance for school-based learning. By doing so, they activate their agency in terms of their preferred media, genres and impression from everyday life. In this process, and the complex creation of multimodal products, the literacies of pupils are coming into effect: literacy in this case is not just the ability to produce a linear and written text, or to handle technologies; pupils are using genres and modes of representation, which are well known from textbooks (see e.g. the Path-Time-Diagram). On the other hand, pupils add modes to their units which are not necessarily typical for school learning and teaching such as a film (e.g. the Passé composé film) or complementary spoken texts, but which might apply to the learners’ media preferences from everyday life. None of these units seems to contain redundant parts; furthermore, the information provided is necessary to fully understand the individual units, and to contextualise the information, which is given in the examples, and thus to make pupils’ intentions comprehensible for others.

By bringing together different texts, which are originally ‘discontinuous’ in relation to each other and, thus, linked to different meanings, the students structured their knowledge and transformed it into a coherent ‘product’. This product has to conform to a number of conventions as it has the function of a learning object with which others subsequently have to work. By standardising representational modes to images and text the students’ associative chains and ‘streams of consciousness’ are ordered, become shareable and can be engaged with by others. This applies to the ‘Limerick’ and the ‘Syntax’ examples rather than to the path-time-diagram ,which refers to a mode that is well known from textbooks for school and which is constructed according to typical school conventions with a diagram and a question. The pictures, which are taken from everyday life situations (social relations: a friend from school eating on the train platform; commercials: the logo ‘prince’ from a sports equipment manufacturer), can be viewed as additional information, as contextualisation of the exercise or as reference framework.

Beside the link to social situations and to advertising, another informal dimension is marked by the choice of words. The word ‘bierernst’ (deadly serious) ironically juxtaposes the language use in the students’ life-worlds with that in school. Also, the emoticon in the Syntax example underpins the students’ idea that school does not necessarily have to be ‘serious’ in order for success to be possible, and that connections to everyday life can be helpful. Therefore, everyday life could be seen as an associative and initial starting point for meaningful reflection in relation to school-based learning. In any case, by referring to social situations and adverts in their examples and by bringing supposedly irrelevant things like adverts (which means consumption) and personal relations to a school friend to the attention of school, students close the gap between everyday life and school; they are mobile within and between contexts; the two contexts seem to be seamlessly connected.