Monday, November 21, 2011

Respond to the Naysayers with these Answers to FAQs about Using Cell Phones for Learning


When it comes to using cell phones and other student devices in the classrooms a lot of questions come up.  Below are the answers to the ones that my co-author, Willyn Webb and I hear most often.


If we allow cell phones in school, how do we keep them from being a distraction?
Teachers across the globe are empowering students with the freedom to learn with their own devices. These teachers are finding that with the right strategies and building blocks in place, learners are much more engaged in connected classrooms. Building blocks include working with students to determine responsible use policies, permissions, holding one another accountable for inappropriate use, and having clear consequences in place. Teachers who collaborate with students and develop effective policies and procedures report a dramatic decrease in cell phone discipline and behavior issues. Samples of such policies and procedures can be found in Teaching Generation Text. When teachers incorporate the use of cell phones into learning, students appreciate that their teachers are trusting them and empowering them to learn with the tools of their world. As students discover how to learn with their devices, they are able to extend their learning beyond the school day and continue participating in online discussions and collaborative activities for academic purposes. This advantage encourages them to become more self-directed, motivated, and reflective about their learning, anytime, anywhere.

What about students who do not have cell phones? The digital divide exists whether or not we allow students to bring the devices they own to school. It is illogical to prohibit those students who have devices from using them in a desire to achieve a sense of equity rather than to provide devices for those who need them. When we allow all students to bring their cell phones and other devices, the students without will have even greater access to school-owned technology since they are no longer competing for access. Students can also be encouraged to share, borrow, or use the phone a family or friends. Since phones these days can be acquired at little or even no cost, schools could hold “donate your device” days and partner with a service provider to offer steep discounts to families in need.

What are some ways that cell phones can be used in a lesson?
Cell phone technologies support and enhance research-based teaching and learning strategies. An entire chapter of Teaching Generation Text shares how this can be done and offers lesson plans as examples. Cell phones provide ways to poll students, create phone casts, use Avatars for oral presentations, encourage note taking, summarizing, brainstorming, and goal setting. They also offer organizational tools and homework help while increasing communication among teachers, students, and parents. Many of the NET Standards are met through the use of cell phones as a free piece of student owned and loved technology.

Could I use cell phones to support my students’ learning even in my school where they are banned?
The first four steps in the Teaching Generation Text “Five Step Plan to Harnessing the Power of Cell Phones” involve using the devices outside of school. Cell phones support educators as professionals in our own learning and communication with colleagues, they are a valuable tool in strengthening the home-school connection with parents, and they support students in homework efforts, often taking the learning from class into their lives in a powerful way by extending collaboration, offering expert help, and making lessons doable on the go.

How do I protect my privacy if I text with students?
By setting the stage with the establishment of acceptable use policies, establishing clear boundaries, using the tools of group texting sites, and having permission forms signed, you are in a position to avoid risk and enjoy enhanced learning. Teaching Generation Text provides samples of these policies and forms as well as a workshop for staff, parents, and students for addressing boundaries, privacy, and safety which not only creates an environment for success with cell phones, but also teaches valuable life lessons for cell phone etiquette and good decision making.

Won’t they use them to cheat?
Students who are hiding their phones in a school where they are banned may use them to cheat, however, in a school where cell phones are used for learning, they will be appropriately managed. That said, there is a growing belief by educators that what we called cheating in the industrial age, we call collaboration today. If a student can access information on their phone, why should we create an artificial environment where they can’t? For those times where using cell phones would be inappropriate, putting in place the proper classroom management tools found in Teaching Generation Text solves the problem of potential inappropriate use with fair and agreed upon consequences. By embracing cell phones for learning, the cat and mouse game ceases to exist, discipline is no longer necessary, and students are well-equipped to learn in effective and appropriate ways.

Who has cell phones?According to the Center on Media and Child Health, 22 percent of young children own a cell phone (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18). And cell phone companies are now marketing to younger children with colorful kid-friendly phones and easy-to-use features.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s February 2010 study, Teens and Social Media, 74% of American teens have a high-speed Internet connected computer at home, but 93% of American teens say they go online. That same report states that 41% of teens whose family income is less than 30K, go online using their phones. That number drops to the twenty percent range for higher income brackets. Clearly, students are bridging the connectivity divide with portable devices like cell phones and MP3 players.

For answers to more questions as well as ideas, resources, and workshops outlining effective ways to use cell phones for learning, including research-based strategies and lessons, check out Teaching Generation Text.
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