Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cell Phones in the Classroom?

To ban or not to ban? Whether it is nobler in the end to embrace the cell phone as a learning tool or banish it to the locker where it can safely sit untill the end of the day. Every school seems to tackle these issues in different ways. Some schools ban even the presence of the cell phone, while some choose a path more geared towards managing their presence. For example, some schools allow students to use cell phones during lunch but they must remain out of site and off during the rest of the day. Like many issues, there is no cookie cutter solution to the problem.

What about viewing phones as a learning tool? Do they have a use in the classroom? There is a growing number of educators who are using phones as a learning tool. Below are a few ideas. Before we start, a great resource on the topic is the blog of Liz Kolb, a PhD student at the University of Michigan. Her blog cell phones in learning is a true treasure.

Let's look at the value of five simple tools and their classroom applications:, Gcast, Chacha, Google, and Jott. These powerful tools are all free of cost and I'd bet almost every student in your class knows how to use them already. Drop allows students to store and save digital media that they've captured with their phone. A student takes a picture or a short video clip with their phone and then sends it to their drop box. Sharing the url allows anyone from the class to access the drop. Applications? Think about a group of students on a field trip with the end project of making an album of their learning experience on the trip. Another use would be projects involving interviewing various people. Students could take a pic of their interviewee, record the audio on their phone using a tool I'll share later, and Drop it all in the same place for sharing.

Gcast: Good and bad with this one but if used well it replaces the need for a digital recorder. Gcast offers free accounts where you can register your phone and then record audio directly in digital form as a podcast that can be shared if desired. Students with unlimited minute phone plans could easily use their phone to record classroom lectures. If we allow digital recorders why not the phone? Interview applications would also apply. Some teachers might fear being recorded but come on, is there anything in that classroom that shouldn't be recorded? We certainly hope not.

Chacha: All I can say about Chacha is Wow! Chacha, founded in Indianapolis, adds the power of web searches with the intelligence of people. You can search Chacha on the web but you can also use your phone to call 1-800-2chacha and ask a question. Chacha records the question emails your audio file to a chacha agent who searches the web for you and texts you an answer. It takes a minute or two but it is all free and amazingly accurate. Imagine students using their phones to look up answers in class. If you don't do anything else today, use your cell phone right now and ask Chacha a question.

Google: Everyone knows of google as a powerful search engine but you can also register your phone with google and send text message questions to google and google will text you back again for free with the answer. Pretty cool and usually a little quicker than chacha but usually not the same quality answer.

Jott: Jott has many applications. Jott essentially records a voice call from your phone converts it to a text message and emails and sends a test message to the number of many people you designate. One growing use of Jott is communicating homework assignments. A teacher can program all her students in a Jott list and call it 3rd hour Math. She or a designated student can call Jott and record the homework each day. You can even add parent emails to the list and make sure they are notified as well. Our coaches have taken an affinity to Jott for communicating with their teams quickly. Our girls soccer coach uses Jott to communicate new practice times and unexpected changes. Pretty cool!

Below is a survey for your school's current policy regarding cell phones. Please click below to help us share our current practices. In next week's post I'll share the results.

Cell Phone Survey


Anonymous said...

These are all fine and wonderful ideas, but it still doesn't eliminate the fact that allowing cell phones into the classroom will essentially "allow" them to take pictures of tests with their phones and e-mail them to their friends. Talk about compromising the academic integrity of the institution. Truth be told, this concept of allowing the phones sounds more like administrators trying to find a way to appease the parents and students, once again taking the "path of least resistance" for which our field has unfortunately become known. Draw the line and have some internal fortitude.

Liz Kolb said...

Thanks for the compliment to my site! Also, thank you for sharing the ChaCha resource, I have heard of it, and have never researched it's use or worth. I am so excited to try it out!

I think the person who commented before me, might want to consider "changing" approaches to assessment. Why does assessment always have to be a written test? Why can't it be that they create a mobile blog and become a mobile citizen journalist? Additionally many of the resources you mentioned are best used for Homework and outside of school purposes. Thus never having to bring the cell phone into the classroom to use it for learning.

Thanks again for a great post!

Charlie A. Roy said...

I agree that anonymous is for the most part a fear mongerer. Imagine if teachers could conceptualize assessment outside the realm of some paper pencil endeavor.

Have fun with Chacha. It is truly marvelous.


Gilbert Halcrow said...


If you want principled students then you must give them the opportunity to be unprincipled.

Not only could they take photos of test, if they have G3 they could also Google and get the answers! Where will it stop? Any day soon now school might actually look like real life if we are not careful.

Pardon my sarcasm I know it isn’t productive, but your vehement fear that phones will undermine ‘tests’ and the hyperbole of your tone all veiled behind anonymity just brings it out in me.

I am astounded that you consider this the ‘path of least resistance’ as if it was some trend that we are moving to embrace like ‘gum in school’!

‘If you do not like change, then you’re going to like irrelevance even less’ – General Eric Shineki (

This is not the path of least resistance this is the only path – I do not claim that the transition will not be painful and difficult (and probably under funded), but unless we entertain the thought of change then we will go the way of the dinosaurs, trilobites and dodos!


Great lateral thinking around the issue – we are what we assess – this is the sort of thinking that will create truly relevant and transformational practice.

Back @ anonymous

If how ever you wish to continue with irrelevant content regurgitation tests – then you could always get the students to check their phones at the door and punish to the full extent of your discipline system any who do not comply. If how ever you wish to continue with irrelevant content regurgitation tests – then you could always get the students to check their phones at the door and punish to the full extent of your discipline system any who do not comply. You've got to be pretty good to photograph a test in a well invigilated exam. Take it from someone who lives in HK the mobile phone capital of the world after Tokyo.

PS China is not having these debates - they are just finding more way to deliver learning over the mobile network.

Gilbert Halcrow said...

Pardon the repetition above - not for effect just bad cut and paste -I was on my phone - really I was!

Anonymous said...

I would imagine you're all voting for Obama - Let anarchy reign! Common sense is just too much work and totally uncool.