Category Archives: ETEC542D

Cell Phones for Learning


The cell phone debate rages in classrooms, staff lounges and kitchens around the world: How can we keep these devices of the devil from derailing learning? Cell phones have the power to disrupt a classroom in many ways: students forget to turn them off and they ring in class, students use them for sending and receiving text messages (whose content may be innocuous and social or may sometimes be more serious, such as personal threats or drug deals), they get stolen or lost and instruction time is lost to their retrieval.

Literature Review

A review of the literature reveals two sides to the discussion. On the first side are the people who reluctantly admit that campus security requires that students have cell phones with them turned off and inactive except in emergencies. Opposing this view are the people who believe cell phones should be embraced as classroom tools that can engage and motivate students better than traditional methods and tools.

Historically, as cell phones became smaller, cheaper and more commonplace over the last 15 years, phones were clearly disruptive in the classroom and had no redeeming value; schools throughout the country banned them outright. After the events of Columbine and 9/11, Beth Lynne points out in her essay “Cell Phones and the Classroom: Schools and Parents Should Adopt Clear Policies to Benefit All,” parents and students began to push for more moderate policies, recognizing the safety benefits of having personal devices for instant communication (Lynne, 2007). However, the school districts’ limited acceptance of cell phones in schools raised as many questions as it resolved. Lynne’s article enumerates a few of these:

  • Should students be able to call their parents during class and have them listen in on the teacher’s reprimands to the class?
  • Should camera phones be allowed?
  • Should students be required to leave phones at home during state-mandated testing (makes cheating easier)?
  • Have there really been emergencies in which a student’s cell phone has been the savior?

Collette Georgii (2007) recommends the simple step of checking in phones with the teacher on entrance to the classroom, the purpose of which is to minimize disruptions due to confiscation or students’ sneaking phone activity. Apparently, this is practical for her, with cell phones previously labeled with name, address and homeroom.

As some teachers have noticed, although we block YouTube and confiscate MP3 players, there is a lot of truly dangerous technology that we allow students to work with, including rulers, solvent-loaded markers, and pencils. In an essay in, Wesley Fryer (2007) lists the rules we have developed over the years to accommodate having scissors in the classroom:

“No one (regardless of age) is permitted to run with scissors. Use of scissors to threaten or injure others is not tolerated. We keep scissors available in our classrooms to use at need, but we recognize the menu of uses for that tool must be limited by the attitudes, language, and actions of multiple stakeholders in the educational learning culture, not merely the teacher of record in the classroom.”

Outside the U.S., restrictions against classroom cell-phone use have fallen; in fact, many countries have embraced the new technology, especially in the university setting (Chinnery, 2006). Pilot programs in Korea, New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan have used SMS (text messaging) for polling and, most commonly, for second-language learners.

In contrast to the American teachers and administrators who reflexively restrict cell-phone possession and use, many teachers have made themselves into cell-phone proselytes. One of these is Marc Prensky, who has built an entire industry (web site, online persona, consultancy, dozens of articles throughout the web) around his own personality of Web 2.0 expertise (Prensky, 2006). Among other cell-phone ideas, Prensky suggests poetry games, phone-in caption contests, and classes conducted only via text messaging.

Probably the queen of cell-phone proponents is Liz Kolb, a former classroom teacher, district technology coordinator and current university professor. In her one-hour presentation, “Cell Phones as Classroom Learning Tools” (2007), she makes the case that cell phones have the capability to become the “Swiss Army Knife” of technological tools for the 21st-century classroom. Among the many creative cell-phone applications Kolb discusses on her blog, are the following:

  • “buzzers” (as used in classroom performance systems such as Qwizdom) where individual students or teams text messages to a special email account set up by the teacher;
  • cameras to be used in scavenger hunts (especially over winter and spring breaks);
  • clients for Powerpoint presentations;
  • mini-recording studios for oral history and other audio projects;
  • instant recording and upload devices for video projects (in conjunction with free video-storage sites such as YouTube and Eyespot.

Position Statement

Kolb’s enthusiasm and creativity is infectious. Her presentation takes viewers through many examples of integrated cell-phone use, in full detail. I was able to set up and use a free account at Gabcast in less than five minutes; I then called an 800 number from my cell phone and recorded an “episode” on Gabcast that was automatically published with a simple URL. She even addresses what you would do when you have a classroom with less than 100% cell phone ownership (give group assignments) and makes suggestions about minimizing families’ costs for cell phone use.

Unfortunately, Kolb doesn’t address two huge issues:

  • How will you get administration buy-in for in-classroom cell phone use?
  • With students using cell phones in the classroom, how can you keep them on the assignment, vs. playing around?

I suspect, the first issue would be simpler to address. You could begin by integrating cell phone assignments into your plans where phone use is only outside the classroom and work your way toward in-class use. When you’re ready to use phones in the classroom, you could either not mention the cell-phone use to the administration or fully document past use and your upcoming plans, overwhelming the administration with your massive organizational skills.

Regarding the second issue, how do we keep students on task currently? Whatever the system is, we know it’s imperfect: students continue to pass notes, throw paper airplanes, chat with each other, and … yes, even discreetly use cell phones for texting.


Chinnery, G. (2007). EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES. Going to the MALL: Mobile Assisted Language Learning. Language Learning & Technology. 10(1). 9-16.

Freyer, W. (2007). Scissors and Cell Phones. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from

Georgii, C. (2007). Teacher tips: How to deal with student cell phones in the classroom. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from

Lynne, B. (2007). Cell Phones and the Classroom. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from

Kolb, L. (2007). Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from

Kolb, L. (2007). From Toy to Tool: Cell Phones in Schools. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from

Prensky, M. (2006). Using Cell Phones in School for Learning. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from



Podcasting for Learning


Educators spend time and energy seeking ways to engage students in lesson content. Collaborative activities, connecting with prior knowledge, relevant applications, extrinsic rewards: all are designed to get students engaged.

Teenagers in 2007 are engaged in the Internet, both as consumers (of web sites, downloadable music and video, email, etc.) and as producers (of social-networking sites, and of classic web pages for themselves and various organizations they may interact with). An obvious way to get students involved in the material they are meant to learn is to use the Internet.

Literature Review

The literature about student involvement with the Internet is extensive and growing rapidly.

A 2004 survey (Lenhart & Madden, 2005) of over 1,000 teenagers distributed throughout the United States found that teens, in addition to being obsessive and savvy content consumers, were also regular creators of content, including traditional web pages and blogs. ”Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet,” say the authors, “could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.”

The imaginative and broad collection Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (Alvermann, 2006) persuasively describes teens’ interactions with the Internet and other new media as brand-new ways of relating to information: “Adolescents, along with the larger population, are developing new literacies in order to negotiate their media worlds.”

Beyond surveys and academic analysis, stories abound of students who learn better and learn more deeply through creation of digital content. The California Teachers Association newsletter California Educator (Posnick-Goodwin, 2007) lists successes from classrooms of all grade levels. High school podcasting classes are about “helping students research information, create quality presentations and polish their public-speaking skills during narration.”

McQuillan (2006) provides an excellent review of the many ways podcasting can be used educationally for language acquisition. Although the document focuses on iPods and iTunes and is published by Apple, it really describes the general technology of podcasting. The paper lists the technological features of the medium that make it new and powerful for consumers: ability for the listener to slow speech to any level (even without changing pitch), random access within any recording, simultaneous access while “multi-tasking,” and optional pictures and video. In addition to these features that enhance the experience for the consumer, students can learn through content creation, including making their own recordings of native speakers as well as developing presentations (audio-only or image-enhanced).

The lazy high-school teachers among us will find many comfortable excuses not to podcast: “Most of my students have no Internet access at home.” (That is, they will never see the podcast content we develop.) “None of my students have the interest or skills to create podcasts.” “Students aren’t allowed to have iPods on campus.”

Eric Langhorst, an 8th-grade history teacher in Missouri, relates stories that make me wonder (Langhorst, 2007). He describes using teacher-created podcast content to support struggling readers, to connect students and book authors, and to provide summary information before unit tests. He provides non-connected students with CDs. (I think it might be simpler to configure a classroom PC to be a secure download station.) It seems likely that the pressure (on districts) provided by stories like these will eventually eliminate many rules against campus iPod persence.

Position Statement

Those of us who work with teens know well that their daily after-school activities – in addition to the traditional sports, homework, and family time – now include many hours of Internet use, and the Internet hours are diverse and often creative. Students are not just crashing in front of YouTube or just updating their MySpace pages or just downloading music, anymore than students of an earlier generation might have watched only Channel 5 all night. Instead they are moving around between tasks and destinations, and they are multitasking: downloading while updating their MySpace page and watching YouTube videos. This demonstrates an extraordinary level of comfort with the Internet and a level of engagement with the medium that all teachers strive for in their classrooms.

Obviously, we need to consider the Internet, especially as an opportunity for creation, in all of our lesson plans. Our assignments need to include development of web pages, podcasts, and other new digital content in our short- and long-term assignments. We need to actively seek to replace the old methods, which have ceased to be practical, with modern means. Podcasting is one of these.


Alvermann (2006). Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives, Second Edition. New Jersey: Routledge.

Langhorst, E. (2007). After the Bell, Beyond the Walls. Electronic Leadership. 64(8). 74-77.

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005). Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Washington, D.C.: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

McQuillan, J. (2006). iPod in education: The potential for language acquisition. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from

Posnick-Goodwin, S. (2007). The Information Age: Teaching and Learning on the Cutting Edge. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from