Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Opening minds about cell phones for learning

In preparation for the series of of workshops I’ll be sharing here in Oklahoma at both the OU K-20 Center’s Midwinter conference tomorrow, the Oklahoma Technology Association’s annual conference next week, as well as a district technology day in Yukon and NCCE later in the month, I reviewed the 26 minute film “Mobile Phones, Mobile Minds” from Teachers TV on Google Video. (Thanks to Karen Montgomery for this reference!) The video highlights students and teachers in the UK who have been experimenting with the use of mobile phones for learning, and the issues which are raised by so many mobile phones already in the hands of young people.

In my sessions, I may use an excerpt from the middle of the video where teachers as well as students talk about their own experiences using mobile phones for learning, and the impact the devices had on the learning culture overall. I think this clip is excellent because it is not simply theoretical: These are real teachers and students who have been using mobile phones to support learning, and their perspectives therefore carry greater credibility since they are not simply offering conjectures about “what if?”

One of the key issues to discuss relating to mobile phones in the classroom is WHY we should utilize them at all for learning. The two most persuasive reasons I understand at present for using cell phones for learning are:

  1. Students learn to make good decisions by MAKING DECISIONS. (This is something I heard Alfie Kohn cite recently on a podcast of a book talk he shared.) If we truly want students to develop traditional as well as digital citizenship skills, and we want them to develop their capacities for ethical decisionmaking, we have to provide them with opportunities to MAKE DECISIONS. Cell phones do NOT fit into a classroom which is organized traditionally as the teacher serving as the sole font of knowledge. If the classroom experience is 100% about “filling a pail” (the students’ brains with information) then cell phones have no place. If, on the other hand, we are interested in helping students not only learn content knowledge but also how to MAKE CONNECTIONS between knowledge domains (something James Sigler contends should be a hallmark of school 2.0) and develop their capacities and dispositions for ethical decision making, then utilizing cell phones for learning in appropriate ways makes a great deal of sense.
  2. Students learn best when they PARTICIPATE. This is the case for active instead of passive learning. Inviting students to thoughtfully and appropriately use cell phones to support their learning process is, in most cases, an inherently active process. (Watching a video on a cell phone might not be, but using the mobile device as a portable audio recorder, a digital camera for documentation of images taken “in the field,” or even to respond to a mobile poll all involve active participation.) If educators are interested in active (and therefore more effective) learning strategies, then I think the topic of ways cell phones can be used for learning will be viewed as relevant and timely.

I’m not sharing a session explicitly focused on “Cell Phones for Learning” till later this month in Yukon and at NCCE, but I will certainly touch on these ideas in my session “Balancing Access and Freedom with Safety and Liability Protection” tomorrow at OU and next week at OTA. Basic questions about learning goals, the purpose of schools, and and the role of technology keep coming up in my presentations and workshops with teachers as well as administrators, and I think this is a good pattern.

I’ll close with the following quotation from Alfie Kohn, on page 150 of his book “The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards.” He writes:

As one survey after another has confirmed, students are rarely invited to become active participants in their own education, whether they are in kindergarten or college. Indeed, the story of American schools is– and always has been– the story of doing things to students rather than working with them. The opposite of being controlled is to be able to make decisions, to have one’s voice heard.

I’m committed to the proposition that as moral educators and leaders in our communities, we need to equip students to become ethical decision-makers and constructively contributing citizens. It’s worthwhile to consider not just our “theoretical” support of that idea, but our OPERATIONAL implementation of it in our classrooms each day. We don’t have to use cell phones to help students cultivate their capacities for ethical decision-making and become actively engaged in their own learning journeys, but I think cell phones can be extremely useful tools if we want to pursue those pedagogic goals together.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , ,







10 responses to “Opening minds about cell phones for learning”

  1. Dean Shareski Avatar


    I’ve got a principal and teacher exploring this as well. I’ll be heading out there next week to do some filming and find out more about their progress.

  2. Paul Bogush Avatar

    A quick cell phone story from today without going into all the details of the class…
    The entire class wrote the results from a survey they took up on the whiteboard to look for patterns in the answers. One class got to talking about the answers for awhile and did not have time to write down their analysis, and so I said do it at home. “Well how can we do it at home if all of the answers are on the board.” “Can we take pictures with out cell phones and post them to the wiki to look at tonight.” I wanted to say did you just figure out a way to not get out of your “homework?”

    The results:–+Poll+Answers+from+Ruby

  3. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks for sharing that story along with those images and the link, Paul! Have you tried creating a poll for students to answer via SMS using Poll Everywhere or another SMS enabled quizzing tool? I haven’t but heard about this from Karen Montgomery– I need to use this. You get 300 free responses I think.

  4. Paul Bogush Avatar

    My kids have used some different poll/survey sites but not Poll Everywhere. I actually stayed off the computer on purpose. At the end of class a number of students remarked independently how neat it was to watch the board go from empty to full and it simply just looked neat at the end(this particular class had the fewest answers, the rest filled every inch of the board). After processing this lesson I likened it to the difference between an eBook and a “paper” book you hold in your hands. The answers on the board were actually not theirs but people in the community they surveyed. I will try Poll Everywhere next week, it looks like a really neat tool–actually I have an idea…I will try to get it into a lesson today….25 mins until class starts!

  5. Bill Farren Avatar

    An interesting article in Wired (09.25.07 Clive Thompson) mentions how 87% of respondents over age 50 were able to give the birth date of a relative while less than 40% of those under 30 could do the same. When those under 30 were asked for their own phone number, one third had to go to their handsets to look it up.
    In the article, the author states, “That reflexive gesture — reaching into your pocket for the answer — tells the story in a nutshell. Mobile phones can store 500 numbers in their memory, so why would you bother trying to cram the same info into your own memory?”
    This begs the question: Why should I bother listening intently when I can just record? Why should I observe carefully when I can just take a picture? Why should I increase my neural network by memorizing a useful fact when I can just text it into my “outboard memory”?
    Is whipping out your cell phone as participatory as thinking about what was said, or looking at something carefully, or synthesizing information that resides between your ears?
    While I agree that a phone can be useful in class if used thoughtfully, as with any technology, we’d be foolish to not think about what is being lost in the process.

  6. Paul Bogush Avatar

    Used today — very cool. Out of 100 students 26 either were able to text message their vote with their cell. Here is what the page at polleverywhere looks like:

    It can be embedded anywhere(PP, blog, etc), and what was really neat was watching the graphs grow and shrink as everyone voted. Because I had the % view up, with every vote all three bars would shift. You get 100 free votes and then you have to purchase votes(@7 cents per vote).

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Excellent Paul! Thanks for sharing your results. I’m optimistic about the possibilities here.