The history of the cell phones for learning movement

Are you going to follow the pack or be an education pioneer? When it comes to using cell phones for learning, if you're not on board yet you'll be left in the dust. Here's a timeline that outlines how schools have gone from banning to embracing these powerful learning tools.

WhenWhatEarly 1990sSchools banned all electronic devices, (pagers, beepers, cell phones) which tended to be associated with drug dealing or gangs.Late 1990sCell phones became commonplace, smaller, and cheaper. Text messaging became popular, especially with teens.1999 - 2002After the Columbine High School shootings and the acts of terrorism on our country, parents wanted to be able to communicate with their children at any time. Cell phones, parents argued, were necessary for safety, and the ban was relaxed in many schools.
As stated on the Education World website in an article on school issues in 2002, “More than a decade after many school systems and states prohibited students from carrying and using cellular phones in school, state lawmakers and administrators are rethinking their positions. The widespread use of the devices and parents’ concerns about their children’s safety are prompting new policies that allow students use.” (Delisio, 2002).The National School Safety and Security Services acknowledged that schools were looking into this issue and, “...some have reversed their past positions of prohibiting cell phones in schools” (2002).
Mid 2000sTechnology advanced and the industry exploded making phones no longer a luxury item. Many school districts allowed phones, but they had to be off during the day. Some tried to ban camera phones or ones that had text messaging.
Not just for emergencies anymore, many parents are using cell phones and text messaging daily to communicate with their children, keep track or them, and manage busy schedules. More and more, cell phones are seen in the elementary grades.

Recently out of college teachers (those who spent their own teens texting), innovative teachers, and teachers who are parents of teenagers themselves are using cell phone technologies as tools for teaching. According to Georgia Senator Richard Marable, chairman of the education committee, “Times change,” he told Education World, “Certainly we can protect the educational integrity of schools and still utilize this high technology” (Delisio, 2002).

Most major school districts (12 out of the 15 largest) allow phones at school. “It is the policy in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, San Diego, and Dallas” according to Gotbaum, (City Council Hearing, 2006). Articles such as “Becoming a ringleader: teaching with text messaging” and “SMS is the Top of the Class” appear (Smith, 2006, Clickpress 2006).By 2007Across the country in schools and in families, cell phones are seen as important in learning, communication, and safety. In Connecticut cell phones were seen as “…serious educational tools, and the results are already impressive” (Whamond, 2007). In Nevada, “Instructors at University of Las Vegas are now using text messaging as a tool to teach students” (Sheneman, 2007). In Pennsylvania, “Penn State uses text messaging to communicate with students (Glazer, 2007). In Tennessee, administrators handed out phones (up to 50 ) to a student advisory council made up of average students with leadership qualities so that they could communicate with principals in order to keep the school safe (Pytel, 2007). Cingular Wireless released a survey indicating that “63% of parents who use text messaging believe it improves their communication with their children” (McCarthy, 2007).By 2008Brooklyn schools doled out 2,500 cell phones to students (Medina, 2008).

International Society for Technology in Education published the book Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell phones to Education (Kolb, 2008).

"According to a Nielson Mobile Survey, more American cell phone users are using text messages than using cell phones to make calls” (Reardon, 2008).

Many colleges were utilizing cell phone technologies in educational practices. Individual teachers were incorporating them into their classrooms and lesson plans across the country.By 2009Changes in school policy begin again. “The Collier County School Board recently voted to change the student code of conduct regarding cell phones and, in the process, expanded the code to allow schools to petition to allow students to use their phones in the classroom—to some extent” (Albers, 2009).

“Florida schools allow cell phones to be used in class” (Solochek, 2009). “Suzette Kliewer, the teacher who administered the Digital Millennial program at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, N.C., said the phones excited her students and made them collaborate and focus on their studies, even outside of school hours. ‘They took average-level kids and made them into honors-level kids’” (Richtel & Stone, 2009).

In Charlotte, North Carolina, it was stated in the CharlotteObserver, “…some teachers in Charlotte are seeking to harness [texting ’s] power. Researchers back this approach with new evidence that texting teaches some positive language skills, and pragmatists argue that a war on texting is unwinnable.” (Elder, 2009).

According to aTimes Daily article, “The Lauderdale County school board changed its policy on student cell phone usage this year to allow students the freedom to not only have them at school, but to use them at specified times during the day.” This policy change reportedly reduced cell phone violations by 85% and according to Superintendent Billy Valentine, “‘It's working so far” because ‘It’s not practical to eliminate cell phones altogether.’ A principal in the district says he’s seen a renewed sense of responsibility from his student body since the new policy went into effect” (Singleton-Rickman, 2009).Text messaging for teaching is a hot topic at many educational 2010Cell phones and the technologies they provide for educational enhancements, especially text messaging, will be so obvious that school policy allowing them within classrooms and for educational purposes will begin to be adopted throughout the country. Gartner Inc, a Connecticut-based technology research and advisory firm, predicts that by 2010, 70 percent of residents in developed nations will spend 10 times longer per day interacting with people in the e-world than the physical one. (Dunewind, 2003). Additionally, “The only difference now between smartphones and laptops, they say, is that cellphones are smaller, cheaper, and more coveted by students” (Richtel & Stone, 2009). As cell phone technologies continue to improve, become more available, and have more computer connections, their use as educational tools will continue to grow."But with cell phones tucked in the book bags and pockets of three-fourths of today's teens, many high schools are ceding defeat in the battle to keep hand-held technology out of class and instead are inviting students to use their phones for learning" (Malone & Black, 2010)

More than half of the world’s population now owns a cell phone and children under 12 constitute one of the fastest growing segments of mobile technology users in the U.S. according to the The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and beyondMore and more students enter our school like Travis Allen who complain that when they are not allowed to used cell phones for learning, they feel like their teachers are keeping them prisoners of their past. Travis Allen has opened a company that employs more than 25 students who help educators understand how to use technology for learning.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.