Juliette LaMontagne | Opinions

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone

Sign declaring "Cell Phone–Free Zone," from Design of Signage Systems

It might surprise you to learn that students from New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods arrive at school each day with personal computers. The problem is that they deposit these powerful learning tools at the nearby bodega — where they’re held like a coat check service for a dollar a day — because their personal computers are cell phones, and they are banned by New York City’s school chancellor, Joel Klein. Many students will circumvent the ban by blind-texting from their backpacks or from the bathroom. But it’s not that simple for those who have to pass through metal detectors and scanners to gain entry into the school building each day.

The rationale for the cell phone ban will not surprise you: critics claim the phones are distracting, can be used to cheat and add no educational value. In a speech to the National Urban League, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “You come to school to learn, not to play games or send text messages.” Apparently, his words were aimed at students and administrators alike; last month, text-messaging service on all Department of Education issued devices was disabled. Only weeks earlier, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came out in support of cell phone use saying, “Finding ways to use cell phones to deliver lesson plans to students would improve education and meet federal guidelines.”

Duncan’s position is wise if only in that it acknowledges several undeniable facts: there are 4 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide today, compared to 1.6 billion internet users. In the U.S., 76 percent of students ages 12 to 18 have their own cell phone. Forward-thinking educators recognize in these statistics a low-tech, low-cost solution to the ongoing technology problem in underserved schools, where hardware is dysfunctional, wireless infrastructure is weak and inadequate staffing fails to meet the demands of upkeep. Even a school like The Global Learning Collaborative, part of New York City’s technology innovation initiative, NYC21C, will open its doors in September equipped with fewer than 10 computers for an incoming class of 104 ninth-graders. The bottom line is cell phones are the most affordable, accessible way to provide access to technology and narrow the digital divide. And while smart phones and their education applications will undoubtedly transform learning as we know it, these are not the phones I am advocating for at present, because they are not the phones my students (or teachers) typically own. Like Liz Kolb,an expert on tools for education, I believe we need to utilize the technology we have available to us.

But advocating for cell phone use in education is about more than cost, sustainability or parity; it’s about accessing points of entry. When it comes to technology integration, you need to meet students (and teachers) where they are. When you begin with a tool they already know and love, you’re less likely to be met with the kind of resistance you might otherwise get to institutional hardware or software. For teachers, eliminate the fear factor and you’ve empowered a previously disenfranchised group of self-professed Luddites. For students, who treat the cell phone like an appendage, you’re capitalizing on an existing passion for the technology.

Instructional goals are always our first and foremost concern; the technology, whatever its form, is a tool to assist us in meeting these goals. In the model of the Asia Society International Studies School Network, we prepare college-ready, globally competent students by requiring them to participate in learning engagements both within and beyond the classroom. Internships, service learning, foreign and domestic travel and learning expeditions of all kinds develop students’ methods of inquiry. What’s especially exciting about integrating cell phone use into the curriculum is the opportunity to extend and better support the rich learning that’s already happening outside of our classrooms (while also allowing us to work around the ban).

We design inquiry-based curricula that send students out into the world to investigate, collect, report, reflect and engage. In doing so, students gain a sense of themselves as producers of knowledge. They become part of a continuous learning loop of inputs and outputs mediated by teacher and student alike. With basic mobile functions like voice, text and camera coupled with web 2.0 technologies, students’ knowledge can be shared locally and globally, all the while developing critical communication and collaboration skills. Audiocasting, photoblogging, polling, surveying and language acquisition are just a few of the activities that utilize mobile devices for learning. These are context-specific opportunities for students to share with authentic and limitless audiences. And for teenagers, to share is to be — which lies at the heart of their love for the cell phone to begin with. As educators, we need to leverage this love to help students transform their communication networks into learning networks. There’s a wealth of untapped learning potential in those seemingly inane text messages; Twitter is one powerful example. If we’re successful in facilitating this transformation, then we have truly created a culture of life-long learners who make no distinction between formal and informal learning environments, who learn whenever and wherever they are curious.

Yes, there are challenges: lack of plan uniformity, small screens and truncated communication styles are often pointed to. But we mustn’t surrender to shortsighted interpretations of mobile devices in schools. We do need to establish norms of behavior, but let’s move swiftly through discussions of acceptable use to the wider implications for learning and digital literacy. Mobile devices are, and will continue to be, an integral part of our students’ lives. Let’s aid their understanding of them as portals to learning.

Posted in: Education , Technology

Comments [43]

stating cell phones are "machines for learning" is akin to calling knives "measures for safety and security". If students are "treating cell phones like an appendages" they need to be sent directly to the nurses office. Kids use "cellies" for "hook ups" and "mad beats", not for writing book reports. I love this line: "When it comes to technology integration, you need to meet students (and teachers) where they are." Huh? If this is true— that lessons can be translated and executed via cell phones— I guess we don't need schools or teachers anymore. Brilliant.
felix sockwell

I am sympathetic to the overall idea: work with the tools that already exist, rather than against them. But too often a diagnosis of low-performing and underfunded schools is "inadequate access to technology," which fails to distinguish between education in technology (the ability to use computers as an aspect of modern literacy) and education through technology (the use of computers as teaching aids). The first is unquestionably helped by buying more computers, but the advantages of the second I think are too often taken for granted and under-investigated.

Supplementing resources at schools by simply installing a bunch of computers in a library, without a more comprehensive understanding of what that is supposed to accomplish, strikes me as a fashionable and convenient move from a systemic perspective, but one that may shortchange more tangible options that could have a more direct correlation to the quality of teaching: e.g., new books, smaller classes. Or more creative ones: redesigning curricula, restructuring at level of courses.

I guess what I mean is: cell phones could conceivably be made use of in some way, but when it's unclear how much educational good can be done with fully-functional and preexisting platforms, the suggestion that we approach fundamental problems in large education systems through as-of-yet nonexistent mobile device interfaces seems pretty fantastic.

I recently started to teach design -- at college level in Montréal -- and must observe that devices like cellphones and some websites (like MySpace or Facebook -- our classes are equipped with iMacs) are only sources of distraction for students. I've too often seen students deny themselves the experience of immersing their mind in a design and learning project by blabbering away.

I don't believe that cellphones are ready to be useful in teaching, and definitely not in design teaching, where a multisensorial and physical experience is vital. Our challenge -- and always present since the advent of the computer -- is to have students develop their design ability outside of the limitations of computer monitors. Design is an holistic experience.
Martin L'Allier

Over here in the UK, a lot of schools have no cell phone policies. The school I teach in (I teach 11-18 year olds), has such a policy which seems kind of strange when I can use my iPhone to control Keynote presentations, my diary is synch-ed to multiple devices, I can find the information I need where ever I am and students who have comparable devices that they can not have in school.

The devices can be used as devices to assist learning, afterall, if we can teach children how to use cell phones in such a way, we are educating them in how to use technology. Often, in schools, the real problem is not a lack of equipment (although it can be). I work in a school of 1700 and we have approximately 800 computers. The real problem is not having teachers who can use technology in innovative ways.
Mark Cotter

does incorporating this type of technology (along with many others of 'questionable educational value') into the classroom make it more challenging for teachers? yes, absolutely!! but how long are we going to use this excuse to stifle educator/student creativity, engagement, and growth in the 21st Century (i suppose 9 years and counting...)?

how can anything ever be proven to have educational value without action research and trust in your educational community?

in my experience, the fear lies in the classroom management rather than the educational applicability.
Jessica Kos

I think your comment (Kids use "cellies" for "hook ups" and "mad beats", not for writing book reports) is the exact reason to rethink how we view mobile devices.
Wouldn't we all rather see students using these devices for something thought-provoking and educational?
Here's an analogy to think about: we teach reading, writing and grammar. If someone told you that kids use the English language to bully, flirt, spraypaint walls with graffiti, pass notes in class, swear, etc. would you agree that we should abandon teaching and modeling proper usage of the English language?
I doubt it. Our job is to lead; to model purposeful and proper usage of English, technology, science, and every other subject. If students are using mobile devices mindlessly, don't we have an obligation to show them a better way?
Mobile devices have too much potential to simply concede the field to people who don't see that upside. What you advocate is akin to letting drunk drivers teach driver's Ed because kids will speed anyway.
Let's get off the sidelines and start teaching.

George Haines

Mobile communication devices are primarily chatter tools that allow one to overbook time, be non-committal to plans and appointments, and provide a balm to one's conscious as they use the device to report their position and explain that they'll be a 1/2hr late.

They essentially turn people into airline booking agents, where seats are oversold and passengers (relationships) are constantly being bumped.

Along with your television, kill your cell phone. You'll be amazed how much fee time you have, and you'll know, when someone asks for your cell phone number, they only want it to be able to tell you they're running late; there's some educational value in that.
Big Distraction

There is no question that schools in general are not taking advantage of the potential learning power of phones, but as with most technology integration, that's because of a fear of change and a lack of pedagogical understanding on the part of educators. I ask teachers all the time, "how do you use technology (read: the Web, your phone, etc") to learn?" and it's difficult for many to answer. Like many students, they've never had models for effective learning with technology (as opposed to information retrieval, which admittedly, hasn't been great either.) I'm not blaming them, but I am suggesting that if we want to take advantage of the undeniable potential for learning with technology, we have to help educators be learners in those contexts first. I want my children to be taught how to use their mobile devices to create and publish and connect, but I also want that done by adults who know how to do that for themselves.
Will Richardson

It seems to me that it isn't a question of whether or not mobile phones are useful for learning, everything is 'useful' for learning, we are always learning, learning can't be turned off.

The question is more of pedagogy and of getting kids to learn the things we want them to. Cell phones are not useful in school when pedagogy does not use them to support the kind of learning wanted. While the kids in a class are 'distracted' by their phones, they are learning an enormous amount, just not what the teacher intends. The easy answer is to ban the technology, the more difficult but far richer answer is to develop pedagogy that exploits it.

Kids fluency and engagement with mobile devices should be viewed as a wonderful resource and indication of their engagement in things they want to learn, not as a distraction that has to be silenced to make lessons easier.
Thomas Hillman

Thank you Juliette for this insightful and thought-provoking post and thank you to your commenters for their provacative responses. Your post and these comments make it evident that educators, families, politicians et. al. must first become participants in using these tools prior to understanding or advocating for their use. I think we might be on our way though here in NYC. Did you know that Bloomberg has just started Tweeting?

For educators and families in districts like NYC where cells and other mobile devices are banned, I have shared some ways that they can still be responsible participants in the digital worlds of students at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2009/06/ideas-for-enhancing-teaching-and.html.
Lisa Nielsen

The topic of cellphone use in schools is one that I feel has only two possible sides: Those who get it and those who will wonder in the future why they did not get it sooner.

It is one of my frustrations that we get sidetracked in such disagreements and faill to see the world outside of our schools changing and at the same time fail to take on the challenge of teaching our students how to use all of the resources at their fingertips in an educational context. Are we not doing them a disservice if we continue to let them look at cellphones solely as a vehicle for social interaction. Or maybe we should just add this to that lengthy list of items that we as educators "do not have time to do."

I prefer to see opportunities rather than obstacles. I do have to say that this conversation came up at my school last year and we changed our policy to allow cellphone use at the discretion of classroom teachers who see the potential that they hold http://burlingtonhigh.blogspot.com/2009/05/bhs-discussing-change-to-cellphone.html.

I am sure that we will have our bumps along the way with this policy, but I think that taking such risks is well worth it. Isn't this what we want our staff and students to do?

I cannot wait for the day where we start asking ourselves collectively how we could have been so narrow-minded in our thinking about these tools. I encourage people to read the report by Carly Shuler put out by the Joan Ganz Cooney center in January called "Pockets of Potential - Using Mobile Technologies to
Promote Children’s Learning"
Patrick Larkin

your points are spot on; in many of our districts, we battle the fear factor and many of the "fearbies" you mentioned have also been spoken here. As a barrier, those fears can be dealt with if we educate and create opportunities for awareness in the power of mobile devices as a learning tool. It needs to start at the superintendent and tech director level, to point to the value add these devices bring to the learning environment. The same fear communicating about cell-phones were the same fears when the eraser was introduced. We need to leverage this power and build administrative capacity to recognize this value and see it modeled, students engaged, and learning excelling. One county in our state is using Qualcom Smart Phones to teach Algebraa to at-risk students while another county is using mobile devices to push down digital content in small learning communities. What you discuss is exciting. Thank you for your candidness.
Don Lourcey

Great idea! Let’s also integrate the mobile phone in class! Cool opportunity to take advantage of all its functionalities and apply them in the educational realm. Just as teachers did with TV a long time ago, right? and the video recorder too, I guess. Although we can’t forget to get to the core of how to use interactive whiteboards… oops, I almost forgot… computers, we have to fit them in somehow. Sheez… let’s sit back and think for a minute here. Do we really need all of this?

Mobile phones and texting implement a very fast paced lifestyle and, although it is true texting has become part of students’ lives, why not consider school a break from that? Why does school have to be the continuation of what seems to be a very shallow form of communication. Why text your classmates when you can actually talk to them? Developing people skills is a fundamental aspect of school, don’t you think? Sure, some might say having a video recorder as inexpensive like that facilitates the creation of videos, but we’re not reinventing the wheel here… we’re actually going back to the introduction of video in class, something that has already been dealt with to some extent - the mobile phone is just a different form factor.

What I think we, as teachers, should be worried about?

Knowledge & Creativity. That’s all there is to it… how to use creativity to build knowledge. Am I oversimplifying??
Tiago Tavares

@ Tiago Tavares I think the reason educators such as yourself question this, may be because you have not had experience or professional development in effectively using technology with students to enhance learning. Why wouldn’t we want the world inside a school to prepare students to communicate, collaborate, connect, and have access to resources beyond school walls with the same tools that are prevelent in their daily lives outside of school? Why not teach students to harness the power of the technology tools they have to do more than just texting with their friends? Why limit supporting students with developing communication skills to just face-to-face with those that happen to be sitting in their same school rather than supporting them in connecting with those across the world who might share a unique interest? Why not allow students to use all tools accessible to them to demonstrate their knowledge and creativity and produce content and connect in ways that are not possible without it? A break here and there might be nice for some if they chose to take one, but forcing it upon students who have to power down to come to school and are screaming out “Engage me or Enrage me!” leads to disconnected students and educational settings that are disconnected from life outside the brick and mortar.
Lisa Nielsen

Good points, Lisa.
As you say, perhaps the point of encouraging cell phone use is to extend the learning outside of the classroom – not necessarily use it while at school.
Last year I asked for volunteers from my Intro to Design class to use their cell phones to investigate typography in signage across the downtown core. They formed teams and I gave each group a booklet of QR Tags (bardcodes that can be read with a phone camera, which then return information such as a text or a website). Each tag that they scanned gave them a clue about an interesting sign. Once they found the sign, they took a photo, uploaded it to a photo-sharing site, then attached it to a google map of our town – all with their phone, all outside of class time. Once back in the classroom the next day, the discussion of their adventure was the most animated I have ever seen.They critiqued the designs and encouraged all of the students who hadn't taken part to 'get on board'. Students really owned their new knowledge, and isn’t that our goal?
I’ve always felt that design was difficult to teach while locked in a classroom, and I feel like I have found the golden ticket.
Leanne Elias

My son uses his cellphone to organize information, store files, take pictures, access information as well as "mad beats". It's increased integration will happen almost naturally as the early users shape the technology for the rest leaving oldsters to grumble about nickel candy bars and the glories of the soda shop. Clearly many can't remember when the computer was considered just a toy for playing games.

I developed a platform for creating iPhone applications, and am interested in moving back into the education space. I designed products for most of the educational publishers in my last business. My opinion on mobile is different than yours only by degrees.

The iPhone is the first device that facilitates a meaningful interaction across age levels. It also allows for a reasonable web experience. Android will catch up, but the entire market is still out a year or two easily. The tools you mention are discrete entities within the space of mobility and a fully electronic program does not even exist in the educational market more than a decade after the web arrived.

We are near the point where programs can be managed on devices, albeit more sophisticated devices. I do believe that discrete components can be delivered within the confines of a typical low end device, but a meaningful educational experience cannot.

The fact that a school system has so few computers is mind boggling! How our country expects to have a sophisticated knowledge economy without using the current primary tools of knowledge creation is beyond me. My question would be, what knowledge is created on mobile devices? And, what will be created on mobile devices?

I agree with the statements that say students on use phones for hook ups and mad beats. I can't even have a real conversation with my younger sister because she can text faster than she can talk properly. To expect these students to integrate education into a device they use for entertainment is just wishful thinking.

To get a good education does not require new technology, but great teachers. Most of us did not have cell phones in high school or even college. Nor was it assumed proper to even use one while present at such an institution. It's only encouraging more anti-social device dependent youth. First it was a calculator on your supply list, now it's a smart phone. Give me a break.

@ thrueyesofruby I’m interested to know if you, your parents, or teachers have ever tried to tap in to your younger sister’s love of communicating, collaborating, and connecting with mobile devices. Perhaps if you had you could accomplish 1) communicating with her in the world in which she is comfortable and 2) modeling proper and appropriate use 3) introducing some techniques for using the phone as an informational and instructional tool.

I agree with you that currently there are not many students who are using mobile devices such as cells as instructional tools. I contend this is because they are devoid of adult role models helping to lead them in learning to use these devices as instructional tools.

I disagree with you on our point about educators not needing to use technology. When you were in college part of the reason you did not use mobile devices is because 1) they didn’t have the functionality they have today and 2) most students did not own such devices. Today’s students do have cell phones, calculators, and other mobile devices, and they are expected to know how to operate them effectively and appropriately in social and business situations. If families and educators don’t teach them how, who will?
Lisa Nielsen

Technology is not a value-free entity that should be embraced merely because it is present.

To go to the extreme, would we encourage the integration of guns into the curriculum simply because many students were packing that particular form of tech? Perhaps; or, perhaps, we'd suggest it was inappropriate to bring them to school.

Or, perhaps we should include lessons on texting while driving in driver's ed, and integrate the total distraction it presents since, apparently, the kids are doing that en masse too?

Of course, the kids ARE modelling the behavior of their role models and parents, who insist on driving while cellphoning or texting at the cost of public safety; farming out their children's upbringing with the balm that a cellphone call from work at 7pm explaining why they'll be late to pick them up (the distracted, apologetic tones while simultaneously texting a client about their TPS report) is equivalent to actually being present; and a million other frantic compromises to deliberate thought, concentration, appointments and action that increasingly represents what people think of as work.

I cannot imagine being a teacher in a classroom with 20 kids all texting away, completely ignoring the present situation within the room - it seems a futile waste of time.

What's being described here seems more a plea for the teachers to compromise; to, say, start texting their lessons in, perhaps in 160 character strings, with emoticons (sp?) sneaking in for words - why bother having the room at all?

That's the root of the issue - gathering in a room, in a social environment ultimately intended for acculturation, and the chaos these instruments create within that environment. All the "sense of themselves as producers of knowledge" can be done with a variety of tools, and if the cellphone helps in that pursuit outside the room, great. But inside that room, with a teacher trying to lead, these devices becomes as treacherous as they are on the highways. Kill your cellphone.

Big Distraction

I’m really taken aback by some of the negativity here – aren’t most people who are commenting design educators? And aren’t designers known as innovators and out-of-the-box thinkers? Inviting students to text like mad during a lesson is not what is being presented, and to suggest this is rather short-sighted, don’t you think?

Martin L'Allier stated that “multisensorial and physical experience is vital” and that “our challenge is to have students develop their design ability outside of the limitations of computer monitor”. This is precisely what mobile technology can offer – a way to get students into the environment and away from a computer lab: looking, thinking and experiencing design – and then sharing with others, through real-time photo (or video)-sharing and commentary. It encourages collaboration, it builds community, and it expands learning beyond the classroom. It does not replace classroom learning, it augments it.
The International Association of Mobile Learning (http://iamlearn.org/) is a good place to browse for research that has been already conducted. While there isn’t much in the way of design research, I’d love to talk to anyone who is thinking of starting some.
Leanne Elias

I love the analogy of not prohibiting the proper use of the English language in class because students may have "abused" it outside of class. While cell phones are a technology, the analogy to bringing a gun to class doesn't quite work for me. While 75% of students own cell phones, I hope it's not the same with guns. I also think there are many more positives with cell phones.
Having said that, I do not believe you incorporate a technology just for technology's sake. But you give it a chance. Brainstorm and come up with ideas and then do some research and testing.

What if you could use the phones to do a quick check of understanding of a topic via an assessment and have the results appear (anonymously to the class but recorded by the teacher) on the overhead? A teacher would get immediate feedback on how many students truly understand and could later see who may need the extra help. If students do not respond, the teacher knows they were not paying attention which is even easier and more efficient than checking all notebooks during a class.

What if students were asked to use the phones to find a site or podcast containing particular information about ______?

What if quick tips, assignment changes, reminders, extra information could be sent directly to cell phones if needed? Never mind, this can be done.

I am sure there are many other examples that could be generated (and have already?) when the topic is discussed. These came to me in the shower after I read one of the posts and was prompted into a reply. But, just because students are interested in something does not mean we need to incorporate it into the classroom. I bet there a several things that a large portion of students would like to bring to class, but that is no reason to incorporate them. If you have something that MAY be a valuable tool in learning, you at least give a thought and a chance.
Tom K.

Seriously, some of you need to let it go. Cell phones are here, and they're not going away. Plus, to say that cell phones (and other technology) create anti-social beings is a very narrow take. I'm more connected to more people than I've ever been before! And, texting hasn't replaced verbal communication, it's just offered a different type of written communication (you know, like the way email did). Students can arrange study groups with cell phones, learn how to send a text to an email account (which is a necessary business skill), and as others have mentioned, snap quick pictures for sharing. Tell me, how DON'T cell phones help? Plus, of course, cell phones shouldn't be used during lecture, but what if it helps someone during their lab time? I'm not going to pretend I understand how quickly some students can glean information via their cell phones.
John Mindiola III

A kid needs a cell phone in school like a surgeon needs HBO in the operating room.

This article's opening observation and complaint was NYC's specific ban on cell phones in the school.

We can talk about the joys of all sorts of technology in the pursuit of education, and if the specific capabilities of modern cell phones have been around for years in the form of cheap digital cameras; cheap digital sound recorders; or, agahst, pen & paper, so be it - we now have a new toy (one that happens to carry hefty subscription fee and whose sole purpose is to commodify the particularly impressionable age group in question and subject them to intense marketing efforts but never mind) that teachers can use, to good and ill, in their effort to educate the kids.

But this discussion of how these tools/toys/marketing gizmos can be used outside the class dodges the very issue that this article raises: do they belong IN the classroom? Is NYC's ban misguided or not?

The defenders of cell phones here seem to have dodged this issue in their responses; instead, the responses seem to project forward to some time in the future when the kids stop texting from inside their backpacks and instead remain intently focused on their teacher, who leads them thru the paces, cellphone in hand, on some twitter-based lesson where, like the recent new yorker cover, maybe they make an image from their cell-phone. Its pretty to think so.

As one who feels this is patently absurd, who sees the ability for a 7th grader to text his/her chums as a guarantee that child will be lost to whatever reality is taking place within the classroom, I would like to hear solutions from the pro-cell phone group.

We all want our children to have great teachers, a rich classroom experience, a growing body of knowledge, and an increasing thirst for knowledge. We all recognize that technology can support these goals.

However, nothing erodes a teachers confidence, enthusiasm, and effectiveness like the pointed irrelevance that comes from standing infront of 20 kids who's heads are clearly somewhere else.

This condition has always been present in schools, but was much easier to control when those illicit notes were passed by paper or stage whisper, and when parents themselves supported the teacher in their cause to have some control within the room.

Parents are now texting irrelevancies just like their children (certainly not related to cell carrier's aggressive marketing campaigns suggesting the boomer & gen-x hipness of intertwining of adult and teen-age behavioral patterns and raking up texting $$$ as a result), making it impossible for them, even if they wanted to, to support the teacher in any disciplinary action with respect to cell phone use. When the teacher gets no support from home (or, worse, hostility when a child's distracting texting is reprimanded), burnout quickly follows.

In this context, a universal ban makes perfect sense. We can quibble about where those phones should be dropped (probably better at the main office than the bodega across the street) but they do not belong IN the classroom.
Big Distraction

As a student who used to read ahead in the book during class (and was even encouraged by some teachers to study on my own in the back of the room because I was ahead), I find myself averse to these commandments from above. Students who can make use of something like an iPhone to enhance their learning, students who were like me, shouldn't be held back and crippled because other students will abuse a privilege.

I'm sure a teacher has to pay attention and make sure students pay attention to lessons, but they've always had to do that. Cell phones haven't changed the human propensity to wander off and lose focus. There are ways you can use tools to help.

I'd give out my cell phone number to students and encourage them to text me questions, even during class. God knows there are kids who may have questions, but they don't want to be seen to be sucking up to a teacher and then get ridiculed outside the room. They'd have a way of engaging a teacher without actually having to raise their hand or get noticed. For a lot of kids who are crippled by peer pressure, it gives them a chance to learn more, but also fly under the radar.

I'm not saying you should let kids do whatever they want in a classroom, but one-size-fits-all solutions don't work in any situation.
Matthew Rigdon

"However, nothing erodes a teachers confidence, enthusiasm, and effectiveness like the pointed irrelevance that comes from standing infront of 20 kids who's heads are clearly somewhere else."

What does this have to do with cell phones? Most of my classes (I'm in HS) are like this anyway, with the exception of a few teachers who are able to make class interesting.
David Archer

As I've heard my boss say many times over, "the tools change, but the challenge stays the same."

Have there not always been reasons for inattentiveness from kids in class? Regardless of phones, computers, notes, paper, crayons, friends, kids will always find something to occupy their attention with—other than the teacher—if the classroom is not enriching.

"There’s a wealth of untapped learning potential in those seemingly inane text messages; Twitter is one powerful example."

Cell phones may create a bridge for learning that has not yet been seen, even via the internet. Imagine if students could learn with other children from other schools simply by using their phones? Imagine if they could do this with children in other countries? There is so much opportunity here.
Kerri Augenstein

I am all for cell phones in class if they provide a service to instruction. Unfortunatly cell hones are a poor substitute for a computer and would be useless in a virtual tour of the Grand canyon simply because a 2inch screen will never capture depth, but they might be useful as a means of updating students on relevant matters in school such as closings or homework reminders.

as an inner-city high school english teacher (brooklyn community arts & media) i think the chancellor's no cell-phone policy is a travesty because students need phones and pay-phones basically no longer exist. but i also see them as an an unmitigated distraction in the classroom.

you make an impassioned case, but i'd need more specific evidence and real examples of how they might be used for educational purposes.

if there are teachers out there successfully integrating these personal computers in their classrooms, i sure wish you'd found them because i'd like to hear from them.

otherwise, all i can say is, easier said than done.


WOW. What a bunch of weirdopeople.
If mobilephones = have a function in kids learning-experience & it is relevant to what you are trying to teach then allow else not.

Whether or not cell-phones are a good exchange for computers in the classroom, really seems to depend on the students and teachers. As some have mentioned there are innovative ways of incorporating them into the classroom setting. But saying that it is a "travesty" that they are often banned from schools is putting too much emphasis on the technology. I didn't learn anything about computers or technology except basic things like word and email in high school (I am a senior in college now). I figured it out as I went along and haven't ever been set back because I didn't learn it in high school.

What I did learn was basic logic and problem solving skills that allow me to figure things out. The problems with education are not lack of proper technology, but lack of interest and lack of thinking skills. Too many students have to be told exactly how to do something, otherwise they give up. They aren't taught how to reason through systems and problems to teach themselves.

It isn't terrible that cellphones are banned in schools as long as the schools teach their students how to think, I honestly don't think that it matters for the average school whether there are anything more then basic "outdated" computers. The problem in schools is a lack of teaching how to think, more so than a lack of tools.
Sarah Downes

In my opinion, I think it's a little ridiculous that cell phones are causing so much madness. First of all, cell phones are a major part of my generation and I doubt they will go away anytime soon. My cell phone is my connection to the world; I don't carry a calendar, planner, contact book, calculator, or loose change for a pay phone because I have all of that in my phone.

In addition, if the phone is in your name then it becomes your personal item. No one should be able to collect it at the door or fine you from bringing it to school. If you wear a thong to high school no ones going to ask you to take it off because it's inappropriate. So why should you have to turn in a cell phone.

Another one of my major concerns is that it's important to have a phone in case of an emergency. What if there is a shooting at school, if someone has their phone, it's possible to pull it out quick and send a mass text. I mean a little far-fetched but possible.

Lastly, I definitely agree that phones do aid in learning. For instance, many times in class my professors asks us a question such as a statistic, and someone pulls out their iPhone or Backberry, googles the answer and we can move on. So if the concerns are that the phone is too distracting in school and it's hurting the instructors feelings because the student is no longer paying attention then maybe their should be a cell phone 'respect policy' that we all follow. Like not answering your phone when your in the middle of the conversation, or finish a phone conversation before you check out at a register, or turn your phone on silent when you are out in public, text in class only when necessary or on your own time. I think if people just learn to be polite about it then the problems will end because cell phones are not going anywhere any time soon.
Katie Klumb

Your example of pulling out a cell phone when a professor asks a question is exactly what I think is wrong. People are hearing facts at the time (who remembers that statistic the next day, much less a semester later), but not how to process information. It bothers me that students complain if a professor says that they can only use book sources and bans web sources. It's too 'hard' to actually have to read a book. We want answers at our finger tips without having to work or think for them. Which is convenient, but not helpful, and certainly not something that should be encouraged in teaching. Do we really want a generation of students who can't formulate an opinion on anything without consulting 5 opinions on the internet and just regurgitating what they read?

Our minds are meant to do hard things and be challenged. We need to encounter the world in more ways than just technological ones, we need to learn to think about issues without an information appendage that thinks for us. People who can't go five seconds without texting, people who can't function without being attached at the hip to their cell-phone (or insert other technology) are uninteresting to me. Their world is limited because they are addicted to their technology. They are the tourists who spend all their time on vacation behind a camera. School should be able to communication ideas without cell phones and it is probably healthy for students to be detached from their cellphones for at least sometime during the day.

As for cellphones being useful in school shooting, they also are used for cyber-bullying...the sword cuts both ways.

The wealth of information that we have is great. But what is the point if students are too mentally lazy to really use it?
Sarah Downes

I fail to see how anyone can truly stand behind the idea of using cell phones as part of their classroom teaching. The immediate issues that come to mind are:

Equity: Not all students are going to have cell phones, and those that do aren't all likely to have the same features. You can't ask parents to pay another $20-$30 or more per month to provide their student with a cell phone that is capable of texting. Thus, the school would have to offer a cell phone subsidization program, similar to the free or reduced lunch program. Call me old-school but I'm more concerned with students being able to eat than being able to text them an assignment.

Privacy: Having recently completed an education program, one theme that unofficially recurred throughout was student privacy. Most teachers I know won't even have a student's personal email address. At best, it will be an address openly shared with the parents. Now we're proposing giving these teachers 24/7 access to the students from anywhere? There are already enough cases of teachers abusing their position, thanks.

Practicality: A text message is typically limited to 160 characters. What are teachers going to do, send a text message saying "Rmbr 2 do ur hmwrk 4 tom"? I personally can not think of a single application that would benefit from having cell phone contact with students.

At best, I could see a justification for allowing a student to pull out their phone to enter a reminder for an assignment, but even then the student could write it down and wait until after class.

Maybe when everyone has an iPhone or a Blackberry, this will change and there will be more practical applications, but given the cost and reliability of these devices, coupled with the hassle of adding another aspect to the teacher's workload, it would be an overall waste of time, money, and energy simply because students like to complain about not being allowed to use their cell phones.

That's great, It is always good to find a new creative way to use technology.
emergency cell phone

I'm a mature student who just return to school to do a diploma. Cell phones in class area a constant interruption, as students apparently don't know how to turn them off or to turn them to 'silent' before class begins. Also, I have seen many students use them for means of cheating during tests. I wonder -- if you think students can use cellphones to learn curriculum, would it be too much to teach them some manners and ethics through such a platform too?

Frankly, I agree that they should be banned from the classroom.


I'm a 30 year old college student. Having graduated high school in 1997, I missed growing up with the internet.

I do think that some people are reactionaries about new technology, and it surprises me that even people younger than me can be heard saying things about how internet and texting culture is making it so kids don't know how to interact with other humans any more. I don't think it's fruitful to be an alarmist about these things, but really, why do children need cell phones? No one had them when I was a kid, so what changed about the world in the last 15-20 years so drastically? Its supply creating demand. It's fear driving that, too. Everyone thinks, well I'll be able to call them if a school shooting happens or another 9/11.

Why do we all need personal computers, especially kids, when most kids have public libraries or schools where they can use them?

Does anyone realize that we wouldn't be able to have these cell phones if it weren't for illegally mined Coltan from the Congo, which is making life miserable for the people in the mining regions and driving the bush meat trade of endangered species?

All so each individual can have their own PERSONAL access to technology. There is nothing faulty or inadequate about payphones, except for the fact that there hardly are any anymore.

And as for the learning concept, I'm sure it is true that there are ways cell phones can be used for learning. ANYTHING CAN BE USED FOR LEARNING. A stick and a rock can be used for learning. BUT, the question we should ask is "Is it better?" than interacting with another human (face to face), and "What does it cost?" and "What is the proof?"

I see kids with laptops in school, and the whole school is wired with internet. There are those who use their laptops to take notes, but they don't need the internet. Then there are those who are on facebook or playing games, and it is visually distracting for me because I see it if I'm behind them, and it's stuff that's moving, its just more visual information I have to filter out to pay attention to the teacher.

It's a ridiculous waste of money to have "wired" classrooms. And the best teacher I have right now uses an overhead and transparencies. That works just fine. Because he's a good teacher and he knows what he's talking about and he is organized. If he used a power point or the web, that would work, too, if he knew what he was talking about and was organized!

It's not the tool that makes us learn or not, but when the tool is also a major source of distraction, like cell phones or the internet, it's detrimental to everyone in the classroom, not just those who chose to distract themselves. Because, unlike doodling, computers and phones have moving pictures and loud noises that distract everyone.
Emily B

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kayla miller

It is very clear that mobile learning is viable in design education and across broader curriculum areas. It is also clear that mobile devices are not going away anytime soon - they comprise a major communication channel in the real world (at least the one I live in). It is up to educators to conceive of, design and implement these technologies in meaningful and motivating ways that engage students. Here's a few ideas for starters:


get to it ;-)
Ian McArthur

Please Turn on Your Teacher: Teachers aren’t distractions in schools; they’re machines for learning. :-) http://gertg.wordpress.com/

Gert Gast

I agree. Cell phones are an untapped tool for teachers and students. Most students have phones that can text and even surf the web. Use them. Have them text answers to you. Have them research things with them. Put these tools that 95% of all high school students have to good use.

In foreign language acquisition, to have a conversation on the phone is the most difficult form of oral communication, in the absence of any body language. Texting is a written representation of oral expression: very hard to learn for a foreigner and a constantly moving target.

Jobs | March 03