At a recent educational technology conference it was mentioned by the keynote speaker and several other speakers that we may be wasting money on 1 to 1 initiatives (take a deep breath). Now I know that in the academic circles I run in the title to this blog alone will invoke cries of blasphemy. I can just hear it now:
- What are you thinking?
- Kids are not mature enough to handle cell phones in class?
- All they will do is text each other!
- But they will cheat
- All they can do is text, chat, and call
- What about those that don't have cell phones
- Wasting money on 1:1, you have to be kidding
All these excuses and more were brought up by conference attendees. I have to be honest until 3 weeks ago I was right there with my colleagues, but I have seen the light sort ta speak. After listening to Ian Jukes (see blog in the links section, The Committed Sardine) and listening to Marc Prensky I now see the importance of starting to explore the uses of cell phones in our classroom. Cell phones, if used properly, can be a powerful learning tool.
During the keynote address Marc had us do an exercise where he challenged us to find out three things using only our cell phones. We had to figure out who a person was, what they did, and what they collected in 5 minutes. After about 5 minutes almost 75% of the audience was able to answer all three questions. He then went on to talk about this is the world the kids we are teaching live in, the digital world. I tested his claims that the majority of students have a cell phone in my own 7th grade classes. I found that through a simple survey about 60% to 75% of my students not only had a cell phone but had it with them even though our school has banned them in classrooms. I have yet to challenge them to do research using their phone but I am willing to give it a go in the near future. The interesting thing I found out was that even the ones who didn't have a cell phone are able to search and use the phone to do research. How does this help us in the classroom you may ask?
In talking with my staff most say they would use technology more if they had access to either a classroom set of computers or more access to our computer lab. In looking at the projects they are working on and what they want students to use computers for is primarily research and some writing. If this is all they are going to do why not have students use their cell phone for this purpose? If you think about it most of today's modern cell phones are capable of accessing the web, even if it is the simpler mobile web. New phones and add on to phones are coming out with tools that allow students actually compose not just email but simple documents as well and I am not talking about expensive smart phones. But most cell phones can be used for more than just research. Most of your moderately priced cell phones are able to be used as simple digital still and video cameras. The pictures and movies can then be transferred to either another cell phone or with some simple software and USB cables or other means to a computer to be edited. Think about the possibilities of having a classroom set of digital cameras? All these features and at no cost to the district, yet we are still asking for more money to buy digital cameras and computers. Why?
I challenge us to rethink our ban on cell phones in the classroom. Instead of figuring out ways to keep them out, we should be encouraging students to bring their phones to class. Think about the possibilities if we are not limiting ourselves to computer labs or trying to reach 1:1 in our classrooms. We could have students use the labs to do what they are begging to do which is create rich content by taking the work they have done on their phone and digitize it using tools such Photoshop, PowerPoint, Publisher, etc.