Karen Kelly

Let’s face it—many educators see cell phones as a distraction. They imagine the horrors that would be unleashed should their students be allowed to use them in class. The kids would be surfing the web, updating their Facebook pages, playing games…they’d be distracted from the real learning going on in the classroom. Another fear is that phones will lead to more academic dishonesty and student disrespect. Won’t it be easier to cheat if students have access to the Internet or calculators? Others worry about the ‘Mobile Divide’ that will occur between students who do and do not have cell phones. Is it fair to use phones in class when some students don’t have them? On the other hand, there are parents who encourage their children to bring their phones to school because they want the ability to be connected to their students in case of an emergency, a change of plans or just to be able to reach them if needed. Innovative teachers and advocates such as Marie Bjerede see the potential cell phones have in helping students create media-rich products and how collaboration and problem-based learning can be encouraged with the use of the devices. I have seen first-hand some of the benefits cell phones can have in the classroom which is why I feel very strongly that educators need to stop looking at cell phones simply as a telephone or distracting item. We need to look at them as mini computers—tools that when used properly in school can be very powerful. The objections that people have to cell phones in school are legitimate concerns and will be addressed later; but first, let’s examine some reasons why a teacher should consider integrating cell phone technology into the classroom.

Liz Kolb found that employers today are looking for employees who are digitally-savvy and know how to use tools of the 21st century. When our students are only using their phones for social and personal purposes, they are not necessarily thinking of appropriate phone use in an educational or professional setting. Kolb states (2011), "Students are not aware of digital ethics or safety....Unfortunately, often students are unaware of and indifferent to the consequences of their uses of technology" (p.101). When an educator brings her students’ phones into the classroom, she creates an opportunity to teach them about phone etiquette and digital safety. Helping our students to become responsible digital citizens is a necessity—we miss a real teaching opportunity when we fail to teach our students how to use their phones in a meaningful way but also how to use them appropriately in a professional setting.

Marie Bjerede is Vice President of Wireless Education Technology at Qualcomm, Inc. She advocates for the use of cell phones in school and shared this story on a blog post in March 2010:
During the 2007-2008 school year, Wireless Reach began funding Project K-Nect, a pilot project in rural North Carolina where high school students received supplemental algebra problem sets on smartphones (the phones were provided by the project). The outcomes were promising--classes using the smartphones consistently achieved significantly higher proficiency rates on their end of course exams. Overall, proficiency rates increased by 30 percent. In the best case, one class using the devices had 50% more kids finishing the year 'proficient' than a class learning the same material from the same teacher during the same school year, but without cell phones.

The reality is that many of our students are connected to their mobile devices 24-7. Educators should embrace this technology and figure out how to incorporate it in meaningful ways in their classrooms because students will benefit from the different mode of communicating.


No Cell Phone? No Problem!

Text Messaging/SMS

Texting in the Classroom

Texting to Connect with Students at Home

Preparing your Classroom for Cell Phone

Multi-Media Projects

Author Reflection