Sunday, October 25, 2009

3 Ways to Use Cell phones in the Classroom

Last May I wrote a somewhat satirical post expressing my disdain for the idea of using cell phones in the classroom. Reflecting back, maybe my thinking was a bit myopic. I wrote that post while sitting at my teacher desk, envisioning the inevitable chaos that would ensue from allowing a group of 7th graders to run wild with their cell phones. While I still agree that the idea isn't suitable for middle level students, I decided that I should at least admit some merit to the practice of integrating cell phones into upper level classes. If I were teaching at the high school or higher ed level, this is how I would use cell phones.

Audience Response System (aka clickers)

You don't have to abandon the idea of using personal clickers in your class when your school isn't willing to shell out more than $1200 for an audience response system. Text The Mob allows a user to create multiple choice questions, polls, and open-ended questions that can be answered by SMS. All the teacher needs to do is set it up on a projector. The responses show up in real time and are identified by the last 4 digits of the students' cell number. This allows students who normally don't participate to interact anonymously. Teachers can also record these numbers before hand and use them to assess individual performance. Since it's the incomplete cell number teachers won't have to worry about accusations of keeping students' personal phone numbers.


Did you know Google is accessible by text message? Try it out – send this text right now to 466453 (google):

Define disdain

In moments you will receive a text back with a list of definitions matching the word disdain. I know because I did just that at the start of this post when I wanted to make sure I was using the word correctly in the first sentence. Think of the possibilities if all of your students had a comprehensive dictionary available at their fingertips. Need an example? Next time you take a class trip to the zoo, have students define the animals' scientific names that are displayed in front of each exhibit. A later discussion on these names could be a great way to explore species and taxonomy. Other Google SMS tricks are available here.

Verbal Response/Fluency Practice

The easiest way to have a student self-edit a piece of writing is to have him/her read it out loud. Errors in punctuation, usage, and transitions become evident as the student stumbles through them. The reason why this editing strategy is rarely used is a matter of logistics. A teacher can't ask 25 kids to read out loud at once in class, and there's no guarantee they'll do it at home if assigned as homework. Unless, of course, they can be held accountable. That's where Google Voice comes in. This beta service proves the user (presumably the teacher) with a free phone number that comes with voice mail that is automatically transcribed and emailed. This is ideal for several reasons. First, the phone number does not have to be connected to a working phone (so students have no direct way to call the teacher). Second, the teacher has two ways of assessing student work – aurally and by reading the transcript. The only downside – Google Voice has yet to go public. To get on the list for an invite code, sign up here. There are other pay services (Jott, Gabcast, Gcast) that work in a similar way, but hands down, Google Voice is the best option.
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2 Responses:

Kate said...

I had some of the same reservations as you re: cells phones in the classroom. After reading today's blog (and trying the example you suggested), I see some real possibilities. I'm also really excited about Google Voice now. Thanks for the ideas and the info.

MrsDi said...

I have been exploring Google Voice and see possibilities for classroom use (including phoning in news reports from field trips that can be caught on audio & then uploaded to a website). However, I am finding that the transcription leaves much to be desired. Even when I speak clearly, there is a lot wrong with the transcription. Hopefully this will be improved upon because right now I don't see much use for it - a shame too!