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Idea for Next Year: Integrating Cell Phones Into Lessons

For many schools around the country, mobile devices are viewed as the enemy. They distract from learning and represent a hard-to-detect method of cheating. But for some teachers and schools, harnessing the power of cell phone technology is the next logical step in student engagement.

Back in 2009, Wiregrass High School in Wesley Chapel, Florida, made headlines by embracing student use of mobile phones in class. Teachers sent assignments via mass text message to students, who in turn snapped photos of blackboards, shared class notes and read their teacher’s class blog. The school admitted that while cheating was possible, the majority of students took the higher road.

Reaching Students

Wiregrass isn’t alone. Use of the technology is growing in popularity. Willyn Webb uses cell phones in her classroom and is co-author with Lisa Nielsen of the forthcoming Teaching Generation Text, due out in October 2011.

Webb uses Poll Everywhere—a classroom response system that uses text messaging, Twitter and the Web to poll students—in her alternative high school classroom. “I knew the ability for students to answer anonymously and ‘in the moment’ were valuable teaching tools, and I knew that even though my students were living in poverty, most of them had cell phones.  So, when I heard about Poll Everywhere, I could not wait to try it,” said Webb.  She explained that the simple set-up required no new equipment and was almost instantaneous. “I had my students get out their phones and text in their answers.  I compared it to the ‘American Idol’ voting, which they all immediately understood.  Now we answer through the phones for homework and for classroom discussions.  I use it with my staff and the parents as well.”

Other services, such as eTextPrep and Instructure Canvas, offer similar services for educators. eTextPrep delivers curriculum for SAT, ACT and AP test prep to students and teachers via SMS (short message service) text messaging. There is also a private center for messaging available to students and teachers through the Teacher Dashboard.  Instructure Canvas is a learning management system (LMS) where teachers can post assignments, due dates for tests and quizzes and grades on the Web, and students can be notified by text message, email or Facebook notification.

“We believe teachers should be able to have conversations with their students through the medium they are most comfortable with, and we're providing a safe way to do it. We're trying to tear down the walled garden that has surrounded the LMS in years past,” says Devin Knighton, director of public relations for Instructure.

Classroom Texting Tips

Webb offered these quick tips for using texting in the classroom:

  1. Collaborate with students to develop classroom policies and procedures for texting (when schools embrace cell phones as a learning tool, students’ inappropriate use—and the need for discipline—decrease tremendously) .
  2. When cell phones are banned in your school, use them for homework, for communicating with parents, and with staff. When adults experience the value of educational cell-phone use, approving classroom implementation is often the next step. 
  3. Enhance research-based teaching strategies that integrate cell-phone tools. This provides evidence and support for your lesson. 
  4. Keep data on student achievement when using cell phone-enhanced lessons. Then you have proof.  Those of us who use texting know that students love their phones and are excited to use them for learning.  That is motivating, and the result is increased student achievement--just what administrators and parents want to hear!


Article by Sarah W. Caron, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
Education World
Copyright © 2011 Education World