What once was just a phone…

Flickr: compujeramey

To educate myself about the outcry over cell phones and the rationale for traditional bans, I read articles on Textually. Very interesting stuff here. There are articles that provided support and reasons to oppose cell phones in school.

This is going to be written in a semi-stream of conciousness … what do I, as a teacher, think about cell phones? The good, the bad, and the ugly – but in reverse.

Que Feo

At first I was shocked and borderline horrified when I noticed that the new student AUP, which showed cell phones as an accepted technology. As technology shifts and blossoms, it would be a shame to cut out a potentially powerful piece of technology.  However, first teachers and students have to find the balance to successfully incorporate them into the classroom without them being just another cool device or a distracting tool. I would hate for the inclusion in the AUP to protect what students feel is their right. If it is distracting the student or disrupting the class, it is no longer acceptable. However, I can already hear the argument forming if I take a students cell phone away, even if it is just until the end of the day.


There are the obvious concerns about the have’s and the have not’s. The students without cell phones or the students with just a basic cell phone without a data plan would be at a distinct disadvantage. These students are the same ones who might not have access to a computer/the Internet at home. How many more disadvantages should be stacked against them? It is possible to find a public place with the Internet, like a library, but it would not be as easy to find a cell phone with a data plan to borrow.

Anytime there is a divide between what some people have and others do not, there is the temptation for theft. With iPods and cell phones being so small and easy to conceal (as evidenced by how many students successfully bring them to class everyday), they tend to get ‘lost’ frequently. This is not a new story, it is just a new chapter.

Sex-ting, threats, harassment, etc. etc. These interactions used to be personal – now it is scary how fast information travels. Even today, the threat of a fight spread like wildfire. It is scary how fast a mob mentality could form, especially since most of the students wanted to see it happen (luckily it was an idle threat). Many of the students foolishly think they can hide behind an mysterious cell phone number or that forwarding the message is not just as bad as initiated it. If they are going to be allowed to have cell phones, they need to be more responsible for their actions. If a nasty text message is sent, from a private cell phone, on school property, will the student still be held accountable based on the standards set in the AUP?

If technology addiction is a real thing, cell phones enable the problem. This from a BBC article:

The study of 267 pupils aged 11 to 18 found 63% felt addicted to the internet and 53% to their mobile phones…They used a written questionnaire to examine the nature and the volume of mobile phone calls and text messaging as well as computer use including e-mail, instant messaging and accessing social networking sites.

Some of the numbers shown by the study are staggering. It showed that students felt it necessary to be connected to their friends digitally all the time. This is almost ironic since I have seen groups of friends ‘hanging out’ and everyone is one the phone or texting someone else. The tech addiction gets in the way of education because the students are not focused on the lesson, but the perfect Facebook update or what someone texted them.

OK, it might not be the end of the world

Students are going to bring their phones to school; that is the reality. Most parents want their children to have the cell phone in case of an emergency or a missed bus. This is especially true in places like New York City where students often take public transportation to get to school. The cell phones give the parents some peace of mind. I heard about the ‘lockers’ provided by local businesses last year when I heard Will Richardson speak at a conference. For $3 a day they will hold a students cell phone. Why would students be willing to give up so much money? What are better uses for all that money? In some cities, after the second offense of having a cell phone, the phone is confiscated. A few dollars a day is cheaper than buying new phones.

So if they are going to bring them into class anyway – how can I get the students engaged using my traditional nemesis?

VoiceThread. You can leave a comment using a phone. You enter your phone number, the website calls the phone, and after you answer your phone it records your message. This has great potential for having students respond/politely critique each other’s work.

Poll Everywhere. A teacher can take polls of the class through cell phones. The free plans allows for 32 responses in one class. If a class was not fortunate enough to have an ActivVote or a ActivExpression they could benefit from the free/instant survey tool.

Recording Audio. I saw this idea on a blog, but it is something I have done when stuck somewhere waiting. I often create the rough draft for future PodCasts on my cell phone. I could just upload the audio onto my computer from my cell phone, but the audio is not high quality and often has confusing background noises.

Direct Use in Foreign Language. A study showed that students can improve language learning with prerecorded listening sections and speaking sections through a cell phone. The Mobile Application for Language Learning (MALL) project investigated the use of mobile phones to develop secondary students’ conversational use of Indonesian. Some of the advantages they listed: less pressure on the students, remote schools/lack of access to certified teachers. Teachers with subject knowledge were able to record an audio segment with questions. The students would call on the cell phone than record their responses. They could check a website to hear their responses. If they were not satisfied, they could re-record their answers.

The post-project questionnaire was completed by 91 students: 71% reported that participating in the project had improved their Indonesian listening skills, 65% indicated that their confidence in using Indonesian had increased, and 64% described the project as ‘fun’…They welcomed the fact that their conversations could be recorded and subsequently reviewed by their teachers…For the students, the most negative aspect of the project was poor telephone connectivity, leading to limited access and poor reception.

I found this fascinating and it was an interesting read.

Nakia Braille Reader. Part of me is skeptical, but it demonstrates the potential of phones.

Some of the articles that fueled my thoughts:

Mobile Phones and Language Learning

Schools Add Cell Phones to the Curriculum … slowly

Pockets of Potential (lots and lots of info)

Blog From Toy to Tool

The Value of Using Cell Phones in Education &  Some Concrete Ways to Do So

Learning by Cell Phones Pushes the Boundaries

8 Ways to Use Camera Phones in Education

10 ways of Using Mobile Phones in the Language Classroom

Mobile Learning: Another Brief Reading List

Cell Phones in Education – Say YES!

What Can you Learn from a Cell Phone? Almost Anything

Cell Phones Make Headway in Education

Deli Babysits NYC Students Cell Phones

Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar

Tech Addiction Harms Learning

Mobile App Sees Science go Global

Teachers Back Cell Phones

About Lisa Butler

Middle school geography teacher, tech trainer, Flocabulary MC, Nearpod PioNear, and Edcamp Hershey Founder. I have embraced the power of purposeful technology and am creative with their application. If I am not doing something with ed or tech, I am probably reading children's books, baking with a toddler sidekick, running around, or dreaming of traveling.
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