Koji Sasahara/AP

Japanese University Hands Out Free iPhones

June 03, 2009 07:04 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
In hopes of improving class attendance and enhancing learning, a Japanese university is doing away with attendance cards and roll-call by giving students iPhones.

Japan Tries the iPhone in the Classroom

Instead of banning cell phone use in the classroom, the School of Social Informatics at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo is giving 550 students free iPhones. The phones are meant to track their attendance and prevent truancy, a big problem for Japanese universities where attendance is crucial for graduation, the Associated Press reports.

According to CNET, a GPS application included in the iPhone will allow students to report their attendance only if they are physically present in the classroom. Even though students could give their phones to classmates and have them report attendance instead, “this is not very likely to happen,” writes Dong Ngo for CNET, “as people tend to keep a lot of private information on their phones that they don't want to share with others.”
University officials declare that the project will not interfere with students’ privacy. When the system is fully launched later this month, it will be expanded to include video podcasts of lectures and other interactive features and materials to complement the classroom experience. "We don't want to use this to simply take attendance,” Professor Yasuhiro Iijima told Reuters. “Our hope is to use this to develop a classroom where students and teachers can discuss various topics."

The students testing the initiative have so far provided positive feedback. "Up until now, we've been using little slips of paper to take attendance. But with a cell phone, you don't have to spend time collecting all of those and so I think it's quite nice," Yuki Maruya, a 20-year-old student, told Reuters.

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Related Topic: The University of Missouri launches similar project

According to CNET, Aoyama Gakuin University is covering the costs of the iPhone hardware and of the basic data plans; students will only be made responsible for exceeding downloading limits. The technology blog Switched reports on a similar initiative from The University of Missouri. Starting this fall, the University will make it a requirement for all journalism majors to own either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. Students will be able to access course materials and lecture videos through these devices, allegedly helping them to “absorb the [course] information better.”

Kaiser Hwang, author of the Switched post, writes that “because the gadgets are required supplies, students will be able to claim them in their financial aid estimates.” But students who don’t receive financial aid “are kind of left out in the cold on this one, and may be left digging into student loans to cover the cost,” Hwang writes.

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