09 October 2010

Cell Phones in the Classroom

Today, I will be taking a new presentation out for a spin. Some teachers and I will kick the tires on it and see how it handles. I have this same presentation proposed for two conferences later this year which will give some other opportunities to do some fine tuning. If it's looking tight by then, I'll put in for some national conferences next year.

This is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" presentation. Yes, we will talk about ways to use cell phones for research and data collection, but there are some other pieces I plan to sneak in. I also know some other things will bubble up---I expect people to have a lot of big buts. This is all good. My goal isn't to change minds. I would rather provoke some thinking and questioning, things that have been lacking in most approaches to dealing with mobile devices in the educational environment.

I'm starting with some information from Pew.

I will do some colour adjustments to the slide once it hits the LCD projector. Computer monitors are poor judges of what looks good large scale. Anyway, if you don't want to "click to embiggen" the above graphic, this is one of several pieces I've pulled for the audience to consider. In orange, we have the relationship between family income and the presence of a computer in the household. In purple, the presence of a cell phone. As you might expect, as income increases, so do the number of teens who have access to both pieces of technology. The surprise is in green. As income decreases, the use of a cell phone to go online increases. Not shown in this slide are trends involving minorities---non-whites are far more likely than whites to use cell phones for connecting online and taking advantage of a wide range of mobile features. When we ask students of poverty and students of colour to turn off their phones...when we refuse to offer mobile versions of educational websites or school surveys which can be completed via text messaging---are we increasing issues associated with the achievement gap?

I want participants to play with text messaging (also known as Simple Messaging Service or SMS). Google SMS is one of the more robust options available, but I have spent time exploring others. What I've learned in the last few weeks is that SMS really blossomed as an option in 2005 - 2006...but I don't think the American public was quite ready for it. Not as many teens with phones then...not as many text messaging plans included with cell phone contracts. As a result many of the really cool SMS things I read about are no longer available. The most hilarious example of this was my test message to Yahoo! (92466---just spell "Yahoo" with the phone keypad). I sent a basic query "pizza 98504" on a Thursday morning. I did get an answer---but not until Sunday evening. So, apparently the SMS system still exists in some capacity for Yahoo!, but if you need a speedy answer, this is not the way to go. One other intriguing thing I've learned is that SMS is used extensively and in diverse ways in other countries (especially India). I suppose it could be argued that in many of those countries, people don't have computers---phones are the tools they do have and therefore SMS is more important. But I think that's all the more reason to have options here. I can pretty much count on every teacher and most teenage students to have a phone. I can't count on a 1:1 computer situation, bandwidth, open filters, or other conditions. We need to have more companies offer SMS options.

I have ideas to share using SMS and data options for conducting surveys, classroom assessment, and capturing information about student performance. I'll also give a nod to App Inventor.

At some point, however, we do need to talk about policy and implementation issues. I am not interested in promoting cell phones as a cure for what ails schools. I think that they can be a disruption in the classroom if their use isn't focused on learning. There are problems with the content of pictures and texts students store and send on their phones, including those which allow cheating on assignments and tests. But I think that we are going to have to find ways to (a) incorporate these tools---as appropriate---for lessons and (b) involve students and teachers in talking about responsible use as opposed to outright banning. I am wanting to gather ideas from educators at these presentations. What are the problems? What are the possible solutions?

So, we'll see what happens today as I roll this out. I've never designed a slide show with so many "warm" colours. I'm not sure that this is such a great idea given that the topic may be controversial and this range tends to incite people...but we'll see if I get out of there without being pelted with rotten fruit.

Do you have favourite tools for text messaging? What are you doing with your phone---other than calls, contacts, and calendaring?


Dorothy Neville said...

A HS physics teacher I know said he doesn't buy and lose stopwatches anymore for lab. And Calculators. Kids all have those features on their phones.

doyle said...

My kids use them all the time in lab as stopwatches, cameras, calculators, and, of course, texting.

I have stopwatches that need batteries. Doubt I'll buy them now.

Dr Pezz said...

Related tech. note: Our school did a survey and found that White students predominantly used Facebook while students of color used MySpace. Not sure the significance, but I found it interesting.

We also found that 3/4 of all students had not spoken to anyone on their phones for at least the last three days. Interesting as well.

The Science Goddess said...

Dorothy and Doyle---I would be interested to know if your schools have a policy forbidding student cell phone use during school hours. I'm finding a lot of teachers are caught between a restrictive policy and the application of the technology.

Dr. Pezz---I think your observations are intriguing because it may point out to schools how limiting their communications are. A school might have a Facebook page these days...but I bet very few have a MySpace presence. How many offer mobile versions of Web sites? Surveys for parents which can be completed via text (in addition to online)? How do we leverage new technologies to be more inclusive of our communities?