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Teachers Use Cell Phones for Learning

by Jay Douglas, Ph.D.

Schools are always looking for ways to promote student learning. Millions of dollars are spent every year on textbooks, computers, and methods that are supposed to help kids learn. But the answer may be closer than many people think—using cell phones.

Some recent studies show that teachers can use cell phones to support learning in the classroom. Besides most students have their own cell phone, so it’s like having a computer in your pocket!

Teachers can now take classes to learn how to use cell phones in their classrooms. One of these classes is at Columbia University in New York. Professor Dominic Mentor has developed a course based on research conducted at the university. He suggests that schools should be using cell phones to support learning because most students already own one.

The class started last summer, but it’s already so popular that additional sections will be added. This is a clear indication of the demand for using cell phones in schools. One of the teachers in the course noted that the course is necessary because there are teachers who are interested in using technology to support writing, research, and teaching.

Even the Secretary of Education for the United States, Arne Duncan, has chimed in about the benefits of using cell phones. "Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school," he said. He encouraged teachers to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material to students on their cell phones so they can study wherever they are.

In a study conducted by professors at the University of Nottingham in England (Hartnell-Young & Heym, 2008), three teachers volunteered to participate in an experiment using cell phones in their classrooms. These teachers selected students to participate in the project. Teachers and students generated a list of things students did with cell phones during the project (see Table 1).

1 Timing experiments with the stopwatch app
2 Photographing results of experiments for reports
3 Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
4 Receiving text and e-mail reminders from teachers
5 Synchronizing calendars and setting reminders
6 Recording a teacher reading a poem for revision
7 Creating short movies
8 Listening to foreign language podcasts
9 Using GPS to identify locations
10 Transferring files between school and home
Table 1. Teacher and student uses of cell phones during instruction

Based on this research and the increasing number of teachers who are using these devices in their classrooms, it’s undoubted that cell phones will soon be a vital classroom tool, much like pen, paper, and chalkboards used to be.

Copyright EERL. Used by permission.