Imagine an ultra-portable hand held device for the classroom that could do all of the following:
- take digital pictures
- record digital video
- record digital audio (for podcasting, etc.)
- ability to upload images and media to a variety of websites
- act as a media player for MP3 files and video
- type text
- surf the web
- voice conferencing
Such a tool could be used for digital storytelling, media creation, etc., etc. You would think most teachers would jump at a chance to have a classroom set of such devices. However, most districts (ours included) have policies specifically banning their use in school. I’m not talking about the latest ultra-mini computer from HP, Dell or Mac this time. I’m talking about the common cell phone most students already have in their possession.
Much has been written recently about disruptive technology in the classroom over the past several years. Wes Fryer recently lamented the disconnect between how technology is used at home as opposed to how it’s used at his child’s school…
It€™s amazing to compare the level of self-directed learning and engaging online learning opportunities available to my children here in our home, to the traditional, textbook and worksheet-based classroom learning experiences to which they€™ll return tomorrow at school. Strange ironies of our 21st century existence.
– Everyone has a laptop they can use
– Everyone has access to filtered but very open high speed WiFi Internet access
– Everyone has access to an iPod, iPod Touch or my iPhone to watch movies, play games, or access other web applications
– No one has a laptop (even the teachers don€™t)
– No WiFi Internet is available for anyone to use
– iPods and iPhones are banned
My son was shaking his head tonight as he said several times, €œI can€™t believe tomorrow is school.€ Yep. Back to school. Get out that paper and pencil. It€™s going to be time for another spelling test.
While I hope our district has gotten away from the paper and pencil spelling tests, I hate to confess that it’s no better in terms of the level of technology available. For example, Charter Communications now offers up to a 10 megabit circuit for home broadband connections. A single household. I have a 10 megabit circuit to serve the entire Internet needs of 14 sites and nearly 7500 students. The disconnect between home use and school availability is just going to increase.
Granted, Wes’ household is very different from the average home, in terms of the level of technology possessed by each member of his family. Even so, it seems that most teenagers at the very least have a cell phone. It seems a shame to restrict and ban such a tool rather than try to redirect it toward more useful ends.
All of this was brought to mind when our local paper reprinted an article from the Detroit Free Press about a book written by Liz Kolb, an adjunct professor at Madonna College in Indiana. Her new book is entitled “Toys to Tools: Connection Student Cell Phones to Education” and provides a number of suggestions and strategies for using cell phones in the classroom. Kolb also runs a companion website with the same title at www.cellphonesinlearning.com. The site provides links to tons of resources, and in most cases describes how that service might be used in an educational setting.
The arguments against using student cell phones are usually based on fear. Students will use them to cheat. Students will use the the cameras inappropriately (Angry teacher smashes cell phone, or search YouTube for the phrase “angry teacher”) Ringing and texting is disruptive to classrooms. Etc. etc. etc. Students are allowed to have phones in our district, but only as a safety concern, and only as long as the phones are turned off and out of sight during class. Again, it’s a fear-based policy – safety. These are valid concerns, and certainly need to be addressed. However, I have to wonder if any of the positive benefits of using cell phones in the classroom are ever considered when developing these policies. I’m thinking not.