Cell phones as learning tools

toys to tools

Book review
Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education.
Liz Kolb.
ISTE, 2008. 230 pp.

When I was a kid, most of us carried lunch boxes to school. Now it seems as common for students to carry cell phones.

Unlike lunchboxes, though, cell phones have proven controversial. More than 25% of teachers do not believe cell phones belong on a school campus. And nearly half of teachers consider it acceptable for students to have cell phones in school but only for emergencies.

Teacher and technology advocate Liz Kolb says it’s self-defeating for schools to spend time, energy, and money creating policies to fight cell phones. Quite the opposite. In this book she details many ways to integrate these devices as tools for knowledge construction, data collection, and collaborative communication.

Using cell phones, blogs, and other Web 2.0 resources for learning, she says, educators can teach students about the difference between public and private spaces on the web; what information is appropriate for a profile; what types of images, text, and video can be published; and how and when to communicate with others.

Kolb is an adjunct assistant professor at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan and has taught high school and middle school.

She says that because today’s students are highly motivated to interact with technology, they may be more motivated to engage in content if they are able to develop content-based projects for their cell phones. “The ubiquitous use of cell phones by youth is the precise reason why teachers should use cell phones as a tool for learning in the classroom,” she says.

Some educators will be relieved to know that the learning activities in this book don’t require students to bring their phones into the school. Field trips and homework assignments offer two alternatives.

Cell phones can be used as collection devices for photos and videos, when used with free online resources like Blogger, Photobucket, Flickr, Flagr, YouTube, blip.tv, and Eyespot. Kolb’s lesson plans using photos include a local landmarks photoblog, a geometry digital storybook, rock identification, and photo mapping.

Students can brainstorm from their cell phones. With a free Web tool called Wiffiti students can send a text message to a live screen online that is updated continuously. While on a field trip, students can text their observations or notes to the class Wiffiti screen and then back in class they can discuss their experiences.

Using the instant messaging service Twitter, teachers can set up a homework help group or study group hotline where students can work together to solve homework problems. Teachers can document students’ thinking processes.

For projects involving audio media, Kolb provides lesson plans for an oral history project, a poetry slam podcast,  an oral quiz, a virtual science symposium, and physics (sound waves).

Some teachers don’t assign Web-based homework or research because not all their students have computers or Internet access at home. Cell phones may fill in the gap here, Kolb says. And what about kids who don’t have cell phones? Kolb says that economic status does not seem to be a factor in ownership of cell phones among students.

Kolb says that as more Web sites become cell phone friendly, that will open up more learning opportunities for students outside the classroom, and more opportunities for students to connect their classroom learning tool, the cell phone, with their everyday culture.


3 Responses to Cell phones as learning tools

  1. […] Jeremy Liews views on how Web 2.0 companies will survive the current economic downturn. Appirio Cell phones as learning tools – educationpr.org 12/21/2008 Cell phones as learning tools December 21, 2008 [ toys to tools] Book […]

  2. Sandy says:

    Contrary to popular belief, not all students have cell phones. Just something for all of you to think about.

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