Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Introducing Smartphones to the Classroom

Photo by Imke Lass
Today was a Professional Development day for our school, and our morning presentation was called "Cell Phones: A Framework For Learning" by our outstanding School Improvement Leader, Blake Buemann (@edubuemann).  The focus of this presentation was to give our teachers an opportunity to determine where they were with their own cell phone/smartphone use (both personally and in the classroom), and to have a discussion to generate ideas on how these devices can be used to augment student learning.

There were many outstanding activities within this presentation (including a cool Smartphone Staff Scavenger Hunt), but probably the most valuable one for me was when we separated into two smaller groups and created Socratic Circles.  Within this literacy exercise, our teachers got to observe and give feedback to each other on their conversation and interactions about the positives and issues around cell/smartphones and their use in the classroom for learning. (As an aside, I strongly recommend that you try Socratic Circles--the quality of the interactions you will see on your staff are truly amazing!).  I have made it evident to our staff that I encourage the use of smartphones used in the classroom, but by listening to these powerful discussions, I got a window into what some of the issues that some of our staff have with them.

Some of the issues (in no particular order):
  • texting during lessons
  • inappropriate picture taking
  • theft
  • plagiarism
  • receiving texts from parents during classtime
  • distraction
  • inequity for those who don't have smartphones
  • cost of texting plans/internet access
  • radiation from wi-fi
  • consistency of policy implementation from one class to the next/no common set of expectations
  • the need for a class/learning objectives to teach students appropriate use of cell/smartphones in class.
We also heard some of the ways that staff members are having students use cell/smartphones in the classroom
  • as a student agenda
  • to contact parents
  • to contact team/club members
  • as a dictionary
  • as an internet search tool
  • as a voting device (with software like Polleverywhere)
  • as a camera
At the conclusion of our PD session, I realized several things.  As much as there are many upsides to leveraging the technology that students bring to class each day, we need to proceed strategically to make sure that these devices augment learning. We need to do this because there ARE issues.  As much as I endorse the use of technology to augment learning, I cannot be so naive not to see some of the potential problems that can come with a 'no holds barred' approach to cell phones and smartphones in the classroom.  We need to have policies that support the use of technology in an appropriate manner that are developed by educators, students and parents.  We need to have the technological infrastructure to allow students to have access to wi-fi within our schools so the use of smartphones is not at an additional cost to them.  We need to make sure that we role model positive use of this technology as adults.  And we need to continue to work with teachers so that they can utilize this technology in a positive and productive manner that is engaging and helpful to students.

But one of our veteran staff members made a very important and poignant comment about the process of adopting new things such as smartphones.  He said "Whenever something like this comes along, we need to do THIS.  We need to talk about it.  We need to DISCUSS it.  Whatever it is, we'll figure it out!".   At that moment, I realized the most important thing--before we do anything with the Smartphones and classrooms, we need to have an open discussion with our teachers.  This will allow us to make sure that we address the issues and reduce the anxiety of the people that will be working with students on the front line.  The Socratic Circle exercise helped us to have a open and honest discussion on a sensitive topic that  generated a number of issues and solutions.   And while we are not totally "there" yet, the discussion has moved us forward.

If you have not moved down the pathway towards utilizing smartphones for student learning, I hope that this post may provide you with a template and some ideas for working with your staff on this topic.  It was a great day for our school, and I am sure it will be for you too!


  1. Great discussion! Sounds like your school is moving in the right direction. Keep up the conversations!

  2. I have been waiting for this post as I have been curious about the results of the discussions in your school. I too would identify many of the issues noted above as well as the benefits noted. I certainly do not profess to know the answers but it seems to me that at a time that the technology is so prevalent in society we can not just ignore it and I would agree with the teacher who said there is a need to discuss it. I wonder how a similar discussion would go if it were held with students ... or parents. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to the next one.

  3. Smartphone computing platforms are increasingly used for instruction because such devices are becoming as common as traditional desktop computers and they can excite students about computing and networking. It seeks to provide in-depth descriptions of important and innovative work in education and training in pervasive computing. Thanks a lot.

  4. I agree with a lot of the issues that your staff had concerns about. I am just curious if you discussed how cellphones or smartphones could be used for cheating. I believe that one of my main concerns besides the major distraction of these devices would be students using them to cheat. I believe that smartphones, iPads, tablets, etc. will not be disappearing at any point but just becoming more popular and as teachers, we need to find ways to make these devices beneficial to the students learning instead of just a distraction. The teachers may need to communicate more with parents and explain consequences to students but I believe that soon these devices will be used in classrooms!

  5. I really glad to know that there are now several students that use their smartphone for study and there are also few application that you can install to help you at school like Google that use for searching.

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  10. Great post! Been reading a lot about using tech at school. Thanks for the info here!


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