Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advancing Mobile Phones as Learning Devices

This morning I read a great article on PBS Media Shift by Audrey Watters entitled "Why Schools Should Stop Banning Cell Phones, and Use Them For Learning."  Up until this past year the rule of thumb was that students could bring their phones to my school, but they could not be on, seen, or heard.  This rule applied throughout the school day, on or at any school-sponsored functions, and was strictly enforced.  I cannot begin to explain all of the battles with students and parents that my administrative team and I had to deal with because of the established policy.

Fortunately for me I have already begun to work with my staff and students to transform the teaching and learning culture at New Milford HS as it pertains to cell phones as mobile learning devices.  As a principal, it took me a while to accept the fact that these small, but powerful computing devices could play an important role in the classroom.  This shift in mindset can be directly attributed to what I have learned from innovative educators in the social media spaces that I now delve into on a routine basis. The knowledge that I have acquired from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) provided me with the ideas and strategies to utilize student cell phones as mobile learning devices.

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Last year some of my teachers began to utilize student devices as tools for learning, mainly as student response systems. For the most part they used a program called Poll Everywhere to check for understanding, review prior learning, and informally assess. The key to effective integration, in my opinion, is the message that was sent to the students prior to use.  Each teacher clearly articulated to their students that they would be using their phones in class during a particular time in the lesson for learning. Since we were just beginning to embrace this shift, my teachers would usually convey this message the day before.  This also helped to ensure that each student brought their phone to class the next day.  In the rare case that a student did not have a cell phone with them my teachers would pair or group them with those that did.  Even though there was still a policy in place prohibiting the use of cell phones we did not let it hinder our progress to create a more engaging learning environment for our students.  

By the end of last school year many more teachers were incorporating mobile learning devices into their instruction.  I provided a workshop on Poll Everywhere and some tutorials, but many of my teachers experimented on their own time and quickly figured out how to use this web 2.0 resource.   As students arrive to school next week they will learn that we are lifting the cell phone ban in the cafeteria during lunch.  During my opening remarks to each class I will explain that this change in policy is our effort to empower them to use and view their devices as tools for learning, not just socialization.  

As educators we must establish a vision for our students and model the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices in order to empower them to embrace the same view.  We live in a world where these devices are a huge part of our student's lives.  Schools should positon themselves to not only take advantage of this resource as budgets are tight, but also teach students about the powerful tool they possess.  I am excited to work with my staff to expand our use of mobile learning devices in our persistent effort to improve teaching and learning. The challenge now becomes convincing other schools of the importance to move forward with and advance the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices.  How can this be accomplished?  What needs to happen?  I encourage you to share successful strategies, ideas, implementation plans to assist other schools yearning to leverage the power of mobile learning devices.

For more information on integrating a variety of mobile learning devices check out this book by Kipp Rogers from Solution Tree. 

Here are some other tools that educators can use with mobile learning devices:


  1. Great article. Thanks for the suggestions. rocks! Going to try the other services as well. :-)

  2. My name is austin la
    I believe phone should be banned, because some people would abuse the phone, with text an and cheating. If phone wasn’t banned the school should make a rule turn off the signal so there no way to go online or test friends. When people are on there phone it most likely your going to be out of task an if not you some one by you will be unfocused.

  3. it is good but bad at the same time its true people my cheat but what if sumthing happends and you need your phone? any thing could happen within the time you get there to the time you leave the school. thats why it is good and bad at the same time

  4. Sarn Saefong
    Period 7
    September 1, 2011
    Cell phone use in school
    My name is Sarn Saefong
    I think that cell phones in school would be nice at the same time it would not. I think it would be nice because teachers would not have to stop teaching to get a student’s cell phone from them. I think it would not be good to have cell phone use in school because the students will text and not pay attention in class while the teacher is lecturing them.

  5. While I applaud your efforts to utilize mobile devices in the classroom, I believe your allowance of cell phones at lunch sends a mixed message. You say in your post that you'd like students to view cell phones as tools for learning (as opposed to just social devices), yet you're allowing them to use the phones at a time (lunch) that is arguably the most social part of the day.

    If you're serious about using the cell phone as a learning tool, then you need to provide opportunities for teachers to develop lessons which use phones effectively. Then, other teachers need an opportunity to observe students in a classroom where cell phones are used appropriately.

    About four years ago, the administration at my high school allowed students to use cell phones in the cafeteria, just as you are proposing. That experiment did not work well, as students were reluctant to put them away after lunch. Cell phone use then trickled out into the hallway, and eventually in the classroom.

    Because the cell phones were introduced in a social setting (the cafeteria), the inferred message was that "we are going to let you use your cell phones to socialize during lunch."

    Students then thought they could use their phones to socialize whenever they wanted.

    Perhaps you will have a different outcome at your school. Regardless, I do think that as cell phones become faster and more powerful than many of our school's computers, we, as educators, are doing students a disservice by not allowing them to use their phones for academic purposes.

    As an English teacher, I've had students in my classroom use their phones for research and my classroom computers for composition. One student in my Journalism class watched highlights of a movie on his iPhone as he wrote a review for the school paper.

    I look forward to hearing how this experiment works out at your school. Good luck!

  6. Mr. B-G: Thank you for your response. My teachers have been modeling the use of mobile phones as learning devices for a year now. Students are aware that certain teachers will allow them to use their devices for learning and have done an effective job integrating them in lessons.

  7. Eric, that is wonderful to hear. Hopefully when (if?) my school tries again to develop something other than a "zero tolerance" cell phone policy, we'll have more success.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. Thank you for sharing, Eric.

    I would be interested in learning more about ways to promote teacher "buy-in," and classroom strategies for keeping students on task during BYOD-based tasks.  Although we have a wifi campus and 1:1 laptop program, there is understandable hesitation amongst some teachers regarding student multitasking and the difficulty to monitor student devices in a traditional classroom seating arrangement.

    On the BYOD/technology front, in addition to Poll Everywhere, I've been following the progress of Socrative as a free teaching and learning tool.   Socrative allows for teacher or student-paced quizzing, and offers up dedicated iOS and Android-based apps alongside a platform-neutral mobile web interface (

    I enjoyed your keynote at this Fall's LI Technology Summit, and look forward to following your forward-facing research and thoughts.

    Happy new year,


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