Cell phones are often tolerated in schools as long as they are turned off during lessons; sometimes they're banned outright. But as mobile technologies continue to improve and pioneers find innovative ways to use them, it's only a matter of time before students are admonished for not bringing their phones to class.
Let's start with the phones themselves, whose usefulness is improving with every new model. For example, almost all cell phones now have note-taking and calendar features, so there's no excuse for students forgetting their homework assignments. And the ubiquitous calculator feature can be used in math lessons, of course.
But the possibilities extend way beyond these examples. In England, an increasing number of organizations such as the police have been experimenting with the use of SMS text messaging for safety purposes. For example, police in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, use a system that can send out warning text, fax, and e-mail messages to every school about, say, a suspicious person or car in the area.
Some schools are following suit. The King Edward VII School in the town of Melton Mowbray, England, for instance, addresses its truancy problem by using a system that sends a text to parents of absent students. According to deputy head teacher Tony Pinnock, the system sends messages until parents respond.
On a more upbeat note, the U.K.-based eViva project is studying how cell phones can be used for assessment. As part of the project, students complete an online profile in which they answer questions to determine their technology skill level and what topics they would like to be assessed on. Then they are notified by text or e-mail when it's time for their telephone viva, or oral test. The students call a phone number to receive an automated recording of questions. Their recorded responses are sent to the eViva Web site to be evaluated.
In the United States, New York University graduate student Limor Garcia has created Cellphedia, basically a cell phone version of Wikipedia. Once you've registered for the free service, you can submit questions and ask other people questions. For example, one user asked, "Who painted those big water lily paintings?" and received the answer, "Monet." Vicki Davis, teacher and technology administrator at Westwood Schools in Georgia, has approached Garcia about setting up an educational page on his site. Davis says Cellphedia offers a potential low-cost alternative to commercial personal response systems.
While these ideas are still in the experimental stage, now that the genie is out of the bottle, don't expect it to be put back.
Terry Freedman, an independent educational ICT consultant, publishes the ICT in Education Web site at www.ictineducation.org.