Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ideas for Enhancing Teaching and Learning with Cell Phones Even in Districts that Ban Them

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with colleagues interested in using cell phones to enhance teaching and learning in schools with a 21st century education focus. The question we explored was, "How can a school harness the power of tools that students already use and own (like cells)?"

This question is asked in the face of challenges including:
-Students are banned from bringing mobile devices to school
-Cells have a bad reputation as a distraction rather than an educational tool
-There are few well known and documented examples of cell phones being used to enhance teaching and learning
-Many teachers are not comfortable with classroom management issues that exist when students have cell phones in class

Despite the challenges, we came up with some smart ideas for beginning to incorporate these tools into teaching and learning in meaningful ways. The first thing to acknowledge is that while students in some districts are banned from using mobile technologies at school, teachers are not. This means that teachers have multiple opportunities to model and demonstrate best practices to students. The next thing to acknowledge is that few teachers have ever used cells or other mobile technologies as instructional tools so they need to develop comfort and experience doing so before trying to do this with their students. Next is that a great way to get students started in using mobile technologies as educational tools can be by incorporating them into their homework. This takes away two of the basic challenges: 1) Overcoming the ban obstacle. 2) Overcoming possible teacher discomfort with classroom management issues around mobile technologies.

Here are ten ideas for innovative educators and school leaders interested in allowing students to use mobile technologies to enhance learning.


  1. Establish (or become) an innovation facilitator at your school responsible for helping to spearhead the effort. Schools may consider having staff apply for this role, outlining benefits and responsibilities
  2. Provide hands on, concrete instruction on using mobile technologies to enhance education. You may want to consult with experts like Liz Kolb, Will Richardson, Tony Vincent, or Marc Prensky who have published books, and articles and can work with you, your teachers, students, and parents to learn ways to use mobile technologies to engage learners.
  3. Start small with concrete ideas that will not overwhelm your colleagues. For ideas visit:
    o Using Google as an Educational Tool Right From Your Phone!
    o Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning
    o Ideas for Using Cells in Education
    o Resources for Enhancing Education with Cells
    o Texting 101:Craik students using cellphones in classroom
  4. Integrate the use of mobile technologies into units of study and lessons
    o This can be collected on a wiki and shared with the community
    o Use the Unit tech integration tool to support teachers in thinking about how to incorporate technology
  5. Establish an acceptable use policy with students and teachers
    o http://www.wiredsafety.org/safety/chat_safety/phone_safety/index.html
  6. Deliver a school launch for students, teachers, and parents. The launch could include:
    o An exciting program overview including goals and expectations
    o An overview of acceptable use, educational value, and expectations
    o Educational activities that introduce students to ways they can begin using their personally owned technology devices to support learning
  7. Launch considerations
    o Consider integrating the use of technology as an instructional tool outside the school day. This enables schools to avoid any issues of bans on devices and enables teachers to become comfortable integrating this work, while internalizing the need and not worrying about classroom management issues. If your district has a ban in place this gives you time to address that.
  8. Parent Coordinator Collaboration
    o Provide a train the trainer for parent coordinators who can provide training for parents of project students and agree to deliver this training across the year to parents.
  9. Online/On demand Support
    o Work with students to video tape and post tutorials online.
  10. Online Resources
    o The article What Can You Learn from a Cell Phone? Almost Anything!
    o The book: Toys to Tools – Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education
    o The blogs: Cell Phones in Learning and Learning in Hand
    o The website: Learning in Hand (educator's resource for using handheld computing in schools)
    o The wiki: Cell Phones in Learning

    o The network: Cell Phones in Education Network providing a vehicle for ongoing conversation and support.
    o The post: Electronic Devices In Schools: PLEASE Allow For Teacher Autonomy
    o The collection: mLearnopia: The Latest from Mobile Learning

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