Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rethinking Cell Phones in the Classroom

This slide is from a presentation I did recently on digital media. In the context of the presentation, the point of the slide is that many educators and school administrators fear digital media and its implications in the classroom. I continued -- rather than banning these new technologies that we as educators don't understand or haven't mastered, we should instead embrace these technologies and find ways to better engage our students using technologies that are second nature to them.
A recent posting on wired campus by Catherine Rampell points to a really good blog posting by Steve Dembo. Dembo's post was in response to a story from David Pogue -- New York Times technology writer. Pogue's column shares a letter from a high school teacher frustrated by the distractions caused by students with cell phones. Pogue asks his readers for suggestions on how to respond. Here's Dembo's response:

I’m so fed up with these arguments. Paper clips are a distraction. Spiral notebooks are a distraction. And as we’ve seen recently, students certainly do NOT need a cell phone to cheat on an exam.

So off the top of my head, I decided to rattle off a few things that cell phones could be good for.

Such as…
1) Check the spelling/definition of a word
2) Research a topic
3) Look up reference images
4) Pull up maps (even with satellite imagery)
5) Document a science lab with built in digital camera/video
6) Fact check on the fly
7) Mail questions to the teacher that they might be embarrassed to ask
8) Classroom response system
9) Take quizzes
10) Record and/or listen to podcasts

These are 10 great alternatives to banning cell phones in the classroom -- in particular, I like number eight, classroom response system because it's something I suggested to a colleague in lieu of buying a commercial system.

What's more interesting than the two stories themselves are the comments. Readers of both post comments that, as you would expect, run the gamut from this is a great idea let's get cell phones in the classroom, to this is the worst thing we could ever do. I particularly like an exchange Dembo had with one of his readers. Here's a snippet:

> Do you stop class to answer your Grandma’s call? Neither should students.
This is a no brainer. You should model appropriate cell phone usage for the students. No, social calls should not be taken during class. I don’t think you’d get an argument from anyone on that one.

> I see the list that you put up for uses, but I’m sorry, who’s gonna pay for it?
Who’s paying for it right now? What % of your students have cell phones? Who pays the bills? Who buys the calculator your students use? Who buys their pencils and markers? Dont’ make the issue more complicated than it needs to be. If they HAVE a phone and they HAVE a contract, then I’m just saying that you should make use of it! Would you tell a student that has a graphing calculator “You can use it to add and subtract, but you can’t use it to graph because Johnny over there doesn’t have one.” Or tell them, “You can only use these 16 colors from your box of 64 crayons because not all students have the other colors.” Keep it simple. If they have it, leverage it.

> What happens if there aren’t enough to share?
Then they don’t use it.
> What are other kids going to do?
Learn the things that you’re teaching. And when they need to look up a word, use a dictionary or encyclopedia.
>Who pays for it when Johnny drops Billy’s phone?
That’s between Johnny and Billy’s parents. Who pays for it when Johnny drops Billy’s calculator?
> Who pays for the minutes used during the day for web access or text messaging?
Who pays for them now? No change.
> If the school says you have to have it for a certain class, can you really make parents pay?
Whoever said anything about requiring students to have it for a certain class? I’m not saying that you should make it required. I’m saying that we should stop banning it and leverage it whenever possible.

>Is your school district going to by phones for students?

I challenge you to take one of your lectures or classroom activities and rewrite it to include one or more of these cell phone strategies. I think this could be really eye-opening for both you and your students. Let me know your own experiences with cell phones in the classroom at

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...