February 5, 2008

Exploring Cellphones as Learning Tools

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:05 am

I had the great privilege of being invited to spend some time in a learning experiment in one of the local schools that I work with. The principal, let’s call him Gord (that’s actually his real name) emailed me about some interesting idea he and his grade 8/9 teacher had.  The class was studying the novel The Wave. The book is about an experiment itself so it seemed perfect to their teacher, Carla to try out an experiment of their own.

So I popped in for a visit and here’s what I found:

  • Engagement. As Carla and Gord pointed out, the cellphone novelty will soon pass, the engagement was with the ideas and sharing. Students were not really dazzled by their phones, they simply used them to share ideas, pictures, sounds and videos. The real engagement was with each other and the story. The cellphones were almost seamless.
  • Responsibility.  Clearly posted on the wall were a set of guidelines developed by the students and their teacher on how to use this tool wisely. Discussions of etiquette, manners, privacy and safety led them to their common understandings. While we know that kids will mess up, placing them in a position to determine the rules and understand their responsibility will go a long way. It’s called ownership.
  • Innovation and Problem Solving. Students discovered their phones were also organizers, voice recorders, and multimedia creators. They discovered bluetooth was a great way to share files, they created concise summaries of their group discussions using voice memos or videos.
  • Teacher as a Learner. Carla says she still can’t “T9” like her students, but she’s learning. She wants to understand for herself, how this can be used in learning. She texts her students in the morning to remind them of homework and they actually respond. That in itself is one positive outcome already.
  • Reflective Practice. My discussion with Carla and Gord clearly indicate they aren’t sure of the role of these devices in learning but certainly can’t dismiss them as many have. Interestingly enough, the school has signs posted everywhere stating cellphones, mp3’s have to be in lockers at all times. Gord laughs as he realizes he’s circumventing his own rules!  He also realizes that this presents a challenge for his entire staff as they consider what this might mean. He doesn’t know yet but believes in the process of watching kids learn and determine what is best for them.

Not every student has a cellphone by the way. About two thirds have one so it’s not about every kid having it but about using the tools they come to school with. Those that don’t are using other tools like mp3’s and the web and Carla and Gord are looking at ways to support that as well. But these issues aren’t going to stop them from looking at this from a pedagogical perspective. They also get that today it’s a cell phone and tomorrow it’s something else. The question they seek is, “Can this powerful device help students learn?” So far so good.  PS. Video to come soon.

Group work

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