10 Ideas for Engaging Learners with Cell Phones Even in Districts that Ban Them by Lisa Nielsen

10 Ideas for Engaging Learners with Cell Phones Even in Districts that Ban Them by Lisa Nielsen

Cross posted at The Innovative Educator

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with educational leaders and experts interested in using mobile technologies to enhance teaching and learning in an effort to prepare students for the world in which they live. A question I’ve been exploring is, "How can a school harness the power of tools that students already use and own (like cells) for instructional purposes.”

This question is asked in the face of several challenges including:

  • In many districts students are banned from bringing mobile devices to school
  • Mobile devices have a bad reputation as a distraction rather than an educational tool
  • There are few well known and documented examples of mobile devices 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, there is progress being made. Most recently Obama's new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan surprised many of us during an interview with Digital Nation with his enthusiastic endorsement of using digital tools like video games and cellphones in the classroom. His attitude is that kids are on this stuff all day anyway, so why not put them to educational use? Unfortunately we know that many teachers and leaders are working in districts that don’t share our education secretary's philosophy, however, with the help of other innovative educational leaders (mentioned below), I’ve come up with ten ideas for beginning to incorporate these tools into teaching and learning in meaningful ways.

Before exploring these ideas, it may be helpful to keep the following in mind. First, 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 keep in mind 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. Finally, a great way to get students started in using mobile technologies as educational tools is 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. So, with these things in mind here they are...

  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. Launching the use of mobile devices in your school
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. Establish an acceptable use policy with students and teachers
    o http://www.wiredsafety.org/safety/chat_safety/phone_safety/index.html
  7. 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
  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. Provide Online/On demand Support
    o Work with students to video tape and post tutorials online.
  10. Read about Effective Ways to Use Mobile Devices for Instruction
    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

Thank you to Liz Kolb, Juliette LaMontagne, Julian Cohen, Will Richardson, Marc Prensky, Dominic Mentor, Nabeel Ahmad, and Roland Fryer for providing the insights and inspiration for these ideas.

Lisa Nielsen serves as a Technology Innovation Manager for the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) overseeing the creation and implementation of innovative technology and instruction. She has spent more than a decade working in various capacities in educational innovation at the NYC DOE and Teachers College, Columbia University including as manager of instructional technology professional development, literacy and instructional technology coach, teacher, librarian, and staff developer. Ms. Nielsen is a Google Certified Teacher, International Edublogger, and creator of The Innovative Educator social network, blog, and wiki all of which can be found at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com.

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.