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Students, Turn On Your Cell Phones Please?


What would happen if instead of silencing or confiscating cell phones in the classroom, teachers encouraged students to use them? Hall Davidson, the director of the Discovery Educator Network, wants teachers to realize the potential power cell phones hold for enlivening lessons and engaging students in the content they are learning.

Most cell phones, Davidson points out, now have a number of technological features that schools used to pay thousands of dollars for as separate devices—camera, video recorder, GPS, text messaging, music player—and many students, even in low-income areas, own one.

At a weeklong workshop for a corps of teachers who’ve become leaders in using instructional technology, Davidson gave a glimpse of what might be coming to a classroom near you.

“Are we going to ignore a device that does all this stuff?” he asked the group of about 60 teachers, shown here at the workshop held at the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.


Students, for example, can do first-person interviews with a cell phone, with audio and/or video that can be posted to school wikis and Web sites, to enhance their reports and projects. Students can receive class assignments and start their research using Web features on their cell phones. They can record themselves practicing their instruments, or practicing a foreign language, and send the recordings to their teachers.

While many of the potential applications are not quite ready for prime time, Davidson thinks that within a year or so they will be, but only if educators see their potential and figure out how to integrate the technology well.

The participants in the DEN workshops are already on the bandwagon.

Do you think that schools in general will embrace the idea?


The idea is brilliant! We should use existing technological tools that students are familiar with. How exciting the classrooms will be when students are asked to use their cell phones, without recourse. As educators, shouldn't we teach students responsible behavior so they will be more productive citizens? I applaud Hall for his insight into the new generation learning environment of the classroom!

I joined dozens of other educators in live blogging during Hall's keynote. The CoverItLive session is archived at http://cliotech.blogspot.com/2008/07/hall-davidson-live-at-den-lc-institute.html.

I believe that mobile phones offer some exciting opportunities for teachers to engage students in using the tools available to them to be life-long learners. Though, educators do have to consider when the use of mobiles phones is an appropriate tool. We certainly don't want to advocate the use of any technology unless there is a clear connection to the goals of the learning experience. There is so much potential for meaningful learning and educational systems should be exploring how they might tap that potential.

I sat through Hall's session at NECC 2008 and at the DEN LC Leadership Institute. Both times it blew me away. While most schools are trying to figure out ways to keep cell phones out of the classroom (and the school) due to possible abuse on the part of some students, in my opinion it is a battle we cannot win. Many parents want their kids to have cell phones available at all times. Hall has given us a multitude of ways we can teach acceptable use of cell phones and good pedagogy for teachers. Let's embrace the technology and drive its future enhancements toward things we can truly use to teach.

Gone are the days when we told kids they could only use a pencil in math. Now, we use markers, glue, sticks, computer apps, and many other items not deemed 'worthy' of math years ago. Any tool that we train students to use responsibly should be considered if proper use shows some benefit to our kids. I don't think we have trained kids on cell phone use so Hall's vision is a hard sale... but once it does sell, what a tool it will be!

This was an amazing presentation and very thought provoking. As usual, Hall was very eloquent in his presentation as well as innovative on the technology side. This event was so inspiring and Hall was a great way to kick things off.
I think that with the use of a specific plan and guidelines for the use of cell phones, there is no way to ignore the possibility of their use in the classroom. What will be hard is getting these policies in place and anticipating all the ways that kids will use and even abuse them.

Hall's presentation on using cell phones also included ways students could still participate with landlines or Internet-connected computers. This is so important when taking into account the Digital Divide. (However, even in the most poverished areas in our district, I challenge skeptics to find students who do not carry cellphones.)

Unfortunately, they are forced to hide them. How unfortunate that because of our needs and fears as adults, our students are forced to unplug as they walk through the doors of our schools. Much of their learning happens outside of school where they are free to plug in to the "cloud."

Sure students can do "bad" things with new technologies. But, they can do bad things when we allow them to leave our classes to use the restroom. Last time I checked, we are still allowing them to use the restrooms!

What a powerful opportunity we are missing by not embracing this technology to help our students achieve.

I also enjoy Hall's outlook and concur with many of the above who have already commented.

One "excuse" I have heard in my own district is that parents will complain about the extra charges on the cell phones for school work. There are many in our area who don't have unlimited browsing, texting, or air time. Not sure how to address that exactly.

In theory, I wholeheartedly agree. In practice I waould enthusiastically agree, but only if we had credibility in assessing disciplinary consequences.

The first time I saw text messaging, I didn't know what the student's furtive movements were, but we had just had a high profile murder and the gang members who had just lost a homeboy were intensely focused on the gang member/texter who was down with the accused.

Many times I have been in the gym when all at once, gang members from classes all over the school arrive at the same to time jump a student. Of course, a second wave of reinforcements, plus onlookers, arrive soon after.

The biggest danger is the nonstop text messaging that follows every teen aged insult and keeps things juiced up. Sometimes on kid has called another something as simple as "ugly" but the verbal battle continues in classrooms all over the school and they can eventually result in huge brawls.

Its worse when you have middle school and high school students in the same building, where the older teens are always on guard to watch the backs of their brothers, sisters, or "cousins." Many times a high school class will be right on track, and then there are a few furtive movements, and then high school students from all over the school instantly stream into the middle school, sometimes turning a 6th grade silliness into a riot.

Now, I realize that all of this behavior is just another reason why we SHOULD be using cell phomnes and teaching proper responces. But if an urban school can't control its halls, then we can't afford the dangers of cell phones.

Our school police say we can't do it, but when we have a murder, I wish they would map out the text traffic of the victim, and within the bounds of the 4th amendment, the traffic of the accused. I think we would see two clear patterns - that the deaths often would not have happened without easy access to guns and cell phones.

Cell phones in the classroom, why not? Technological tools that are easy to use and engage the students in learning make teachers jobs and students daily classroom lives richer; just what the doctor ordered! Can you imagine a students excitement when their teacher asks them to take out their cell phones to text someone to ask them their favorite food? What could a class do with that information...make a table, create a graph, write a paragraph describing the data. The options are endless; thank you Hall for continuing to push the boundaries of our thinking.

I intend to start my back-to-school meeting with teachers this year, with a quickie discussion of how technologies like cell phones and iPods can be embraced by teachers, instead of pushed aside. Gone are the days when we should think students LOVE email - today they want to text (what will it be tomorrow?). If our students have access to cell phones with more than just "phone" capabilities, and like to make use of them, why should we NOT tap into this tool? I agree, however, that this technology is not quite "ready for prime time". We, as teachers, must make sure that assignments using cell phones do not require them (or their parents) to incur any additional charges. I've often thought of approaching our local telco to see if they would be willing to offer an unlimited texting package for our students, which would allow us to more easily approach parents about making use of this technology tool.

I live in an elementary school world and rarely do students at this level have cell phones. Perhaps that will change down the road, but from what I see, there are huge benefits for the use of cell phones in middle and high schools. We all know there are ways students can cheat with phones or use them in inappropriate ways, but as is the case for a lot of things, a few can ruin it for the many. Hall's presentation at NECC was very good and I would love to have him give that same presentation to School Board members. Those are often the people who are making the decisions against cell phone use in schools. Perhaps demonstrating polleverywhere.com at a School Boarding meeting would open the eyes of the Board and Administration enough to start a conversation.

Using cell phones I think is an awesome and brilliant idea. Have you ever watched a teenage text message? WOW!! Their world is so different then the "old days". It is about time that as teachers we find a way to capture their attention and utilize their skills.

If you get a chance check out the video clip called "Pay Attention" on Teacher Tube. If you are on the fence about this issue then this clip may change your mind.

I believe that we can't fight change so why not just capture it and enjoy! :)

The USA is behind in the use of cell phones when compared to other countries. Cellular phone technology is here to stay. The possibilities for educational uses are numerous. Students and teachers need the support of administration with new AUP's that do not ban use of cell phones in the classroom!

I could not agree more. Cell phone are very important and useful tools.
However, when you work in an environment in which students don't put the phones away when you ask them to, it is a problem.
In the inner city school where I work, teachers can ask until they are blue in the face, and the students simply ignore them, knowing fully that nothing can be done to them.
What then?

I was at Hall's presentation and have to agree - to let something this powerful and available sit in a backpack and not get used in the classroom is a bad idea. My only concern is for those students who don't have the powerful cell phones. In sessions such as this, I hear "they already have them, let's use them".

The fact is that not every student has one, or at least not every student has one that can do anything other than make and receive phone calls. Teachers who plan to use cell phones in their classroom will need to make sure they have accomodated these students, either by teaming them with students who DO have those phones, or by providing class cell phones for them to use. Otherwise, underprivileged students, or students whose parents don't want to get them a high-dollar phone, will feel left out and parents may resist the technology because of the impact on their pocketbooks.

I'm on board with embracing the technology and finding creative ways to engage students at the point where their world intersects with school, but another consideration (besides the ones in the previous posts) is the cost. Adding unlimited texting to a phone, let alone Internet/E-mail access can really bump up the cost of the phone service to families. This can be a problem not just in lower-income communities, but also in higher-income ones where some kids might be trying to "pass" as having the cool gadgets, but still be constrained by income. Just a caveat to be aware of your students, and if you have an in-class assignment that requires a jump online through the phone, then you also have phones (quietly) available to those who might need them.

Three years ago, Hall Davidson presented a keynote at PETE&C, "Teaching Kids with the Things They Carry in their Pockets." An early advocate of mobile devices in the classroom, Hall reasoned that educators need to harness the power of hand-held devices to teach students the way they want to learn. Cell phones, however, pose challenges to teachers trained in districts' acceptable use policies. How do we negotiate the divide between policy and current best practices?

Cell phones simplify podcasting assignments; students dial directly to an established GCast account. Surveys are simpler with mobile phones, as is geocaching with a cell phone with GPS, or using an iPhone or Nokia to broadcast live with Mogulus. Without question, mobile phones can change the learning landscape.

Like many other colleagues who have already posted, I was live blogging at Hall's presentation at DEN LC National Institute, and concur that cell phones provide powerful learning opportunities for the classroom. But they also conflict with most districts' sensible concerns for mis/use. Part of learning and teaching in the 21st century calls into question the most viable ways we can move from old to new school and still provide relevant and safe learning environments for our students.

I think this is a great idea that is definitely in th theoretical stages. There are many obstacles that need to be worked out, otherwise, it could be more of a debacle than a true educational tool.

I would like to see some examples of REAL CLASSROOM APPLICATION in a typical U.S. classroom to see how it is managed.

I would love to field test a cell phone recess in a school to see if it would eliminate or reduce unauthorized use by students.

Cell phones are an integral part of many students' lifestyles. Students can not focus on instruction if they are preoccupied with sending and receiving messages.

A five minute morning and afternoon cell phone recess acknowledges that students use cell phones and demonstrates that schools expect students to adhere to guidelines.

How would students respond?

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