Incorporating cell phones into the classroom

Posted by Jerry Doll on Wed, Feb, 15, 2012 @ 09:02 AM

guy textingTake a walk around any junior high or high school campus in between classes and you'll probably see most students looking down at their cell phones — texting, rather than making eye contact and carrying on actual conversations. These miraculous, pocket-sized pieces of technology have become a mainstay on most kid's "required school supplies" lists since the 1990's.  But how do they impact learning and should they be allowed in class?

There are many schools of thought on the subject (pardon the pun). But, most agree that cell phones are going to be around for awhile and we'd better have some "smart policies" in place to deal with "smart phones."

There are still some schools that ban cell phone use from the time to the first bell rings to the time the students are dismissed for the day.  But is that the smartest policy?  Just like when laptops and desktop computers were new, it took some time for policy makers to realize that the benefits of their use in the classroom might outweigh any perceived negative distractions.  Understandably, cell phones (especially smart phones) are a slightly different animal, as schools cannot control the content and access to objectionable material on each device.

Some of the key problems teachers have with unsanctioned cell phone use in schools include:

  • Sending friends text messages during class time.
  • Sending or receiving test answers.
  • Bullying or harassment via unwanted text messaging.
  • Taking and distributing inappropriate digital photos of students.

So, how can we embrace the technology our kids have grown-up with, without creating utter chaos in the classroom?  Here are a few suggestions from some educators and some ideas of how they have utilized cell phones in their everyday learning process.

  • If found with a cell phone turned on during a test, students receive an automatic two grade deduction from the test scores. Remind everyone to turn their phones off prior to the test.
  • If found using cell phone during class, automatic deduction from their participation score. Make the deduction appropriately severe to be a deterrent.
  • Have students label their cell phones and place them in a basket at the beginning of class. Return them to students at the end of class.

Here are some of the tools that might be beneficial for students if they are allowed to use cell phones during class:

  • Calculators: Although most schools have them in math class, other classes that don't have them on hand for students can benefit from number crunching. For example, social studies students studying elections can quickly determine percentages of electoral votes or other scenarios. Science classrooms can use them to perform calculations related to fieldwork.
  • Digital cameras: Not all schools or classrooms are outfitted with digital cameras, although many can benefit from them. For example, students can use them to document a variety of things for multimedia presentations or reports. field trips can be documented and incorporated into digital travelogues.
  • Internet access: Many phones have wireless Internet access, thus opening up a world of possibilities for class use. Science students might conduct fieldwork and submit their observations or data to either an internal or external data gathering site. Students can subscribe to podcasts that you produce or offered by a multitude of other sources.
  • Dictionaries: Students in literature and language arts classes can benefit from being able to quickly query the definition of a word. Additionally, students who are English learners especially can benefit from translation dictionaries which are becoming available on cell phones.

Granted, there are always going to be distractions in class.  But perhaps with a little creativity, cell phones can be used as a learning tool, eliminating them as a distraction.  Students will become more engaged in the learning process if you speak to them in their "language."  Today, that language is via the cell phone.

Of course there are always drawbacks to any well-laid plan.  Many schools still struggle with the fact that not every student has a cell phone and that there are many different kinds of phones available, with varying degrees of capability.

There are also privacy issues to consider, especially since most phones now include digital cameras. This can be a real problem when used improperly in class, restrooms, locker rooms, etc.  Perhaps cell phone etiquette, privacy laws, and the consequences of misuse might be a pertinent classroom discussion before allowing their use by students?

On the flip side, most agree that in cases of emergency (such as bad weather, external threats, security issues, etc.) the cell phone can be a lifesaver for teachers and students alike.

incorporating cell phones into the classroom is certainly a source of debate and will require considerable thought, research, monitoring, creativity, and policy adjustments.  No doubt, we'll hear much more about this topic as school officials continue to wrestle with this new technology issue.

Source: Teaching Today
Image: Andy Newson /

Topics: School, Classroom, technology, cell, phones, policy, computer, teacher, students