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25 practical ideas for using Mobile Phones in the Classroom

November 20th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

We have been writing a lot about ideas on how mobile devices, and particularly phones might be used to support learning. But most of this work has been from a somewhat theoretical angle. Now Jenny Hughes has written a great guest blog on the practical work she has been doing on the use of mobiles in schools.

“I’ve been working with (primary and secondary teachers) on e-learning in the classroom – particularly the use of web 2.0 applications – as the roll out and dissemination of the TACCLE project. Part of this has been looking at the use of mobile phones as learning tools in schools.

There seems to be a lot of debate around the technology, the theoretical perspectives, the social dimension and so on but just at the moment the ‘doing’ is engaging me far more than the research. And as I’m always the first to complain about the practitioner – researcher divide, I thought maybe we should contribute by sharing some stuff we are experimenting with in the classroom.

What follows is some of the output from teachers. Firstly there has been a debate around the feasibility of using mobile telephones in schools; teachers from schools that have banned them outright, teachers from schools where they are allowed and teachers who are actually using them for learning generated a list of For-and-Against arguments. Secondly, there are some practical suggestions for using mobile devices (mainly phones), tried and tested and either contributed by teachers or trialed on the TACCLE course.

Arguments against allowing mobile phones in schools – for learning or social purposes

  • Loss and theft and potential bullying
  • Distraction and interruption
  • Taking photos of tests and instantly passing them on to other pupils
  • Texting answers of tests to other students
  • Taking photos of pupils in changing rooms, toilets
  • Spreading rumours fast
  • Sex texting and cyber-bullying
  • Non-filtered web access that can be used to spread content that some parents do not want their children exposed to.
  • Recording teachers and pupils in the classroom – can be detrimental to teacher and student reputation and proper consent to publish not asked for or given. Even bigger problem with younger children vis a vis Child Protection issues
  • Privacy issues with teachers having personal phone numbers of pupils and vice versa.

About using phones as learning tools –

  • Have and have not situation – some pupils will not have them, some will not. Some will support less applications than others – need to work at level of common denominator.
  • Cost implications for pupils and their parents – not just the cost of the hardware but the cost of use. Many pupils on ‘Pay-as-you-go’.

Arguments in favour of allowing them and using them for learning

(We excluded I-Phones, Blackberries etc as teachers in this area said most pupils do not have them) –

  • Is cost effective for schools
  • Reduces the need for all students to have access to computers in classroom
  • Need less equipment like digital cameras, camcorders, mics etc
  • If pupils are going to have them in schools anyway, irrespective of whether it is officially allowed, they may as well be exploited for learning. Overcomes some of the problems of ‘distraction’ etc.
  • Uses cheap and familiar technology
  • They are a good vehicle for teaching about ‘use-and-abuse’ issues such as digital identities, protocols, bullying, net safety etc
  • Can be used as data collection and recording devices – audio, pics and video – for recording experiments, field work, voice memos etc
  • Can be used as creative tool – making podcasts, picture blogs, twittering etc
  • Can use the phone itself as learning aid – creating ringtones, wallpaper etc (more on this later)
  • Pupils can ask questions of the teacher they may be too embarrassed to ask publicly.
  • Encourages engagement e.g SMS polling can ensure every pupils  voice is heard.
  • SMS polling (e.g using Wiffiti or PollEverywhere) can be used for formative assessment
  • Can be used for collaborative learning and communication (see below)
  • Pupils are encouraged to use general reference books so why not phones – as dictionary, spell checker, thesaurus, encyclopaedia etc
  • As specific research tool via web access

Practical ideas for using phones for learning that teachers tried out

(NB these are ideas generated by teachers working in a formal learning environment. We are aware of the huge potential of mobile devices for informal learning but this was not in our brief!)

Firstly, a few ideas about using the phone itself – rather than using it as a communication device.

  • Pupils can customize the wallpaper on their phones using something like pix2fone or pixdrop.
  • Either the teacher can ask them to take a picture with their phone around a particular theme or can send everyone in the class a picture she wants them to study / talk about to use as wall paper. This could be a photograph or a key message or reminder of some learning point.
  • Pupils can create ring tones using e.g  phonezoo. They create the ‘tone’ in Audacity, Garageband etc and export to phonezoo which then sends it back to mobile phone where it is saved as a ringtone.

We tried making up jingles for a particular topic, key dates for a history test, a poem to be learned for a literature test, a foreign language phrase and lists of chemical elements in a particular group in the Periodic Table!

Some more general applications:

  • Use sites like gabcast or evoca to make ‘instant’ podcasts straight from a mobile that can be accessed from a mobile (and you only have to be over 13 to use them) without having to use podcasting software. We did a geography quiz on local landmarks and geographical features “From where I’m standing I can see….where am I?”
  • Setting up audio tours e.g one group is working on a guide to places of interest in their town where at each point of interest there is a notice “to hear the story ring this number”
  • Using their phones to access podcasts. Some mobile phones can already subscribe to podcasts and a fair few can listen to streaming MP3s from the Internet. Even if these features are missing, pretty much every mobile phone you can buy nowadays can be hooked up to a computer and have MP3s sent to it to listen to on the go.
  • creating mini-documentaries using the camera in their phone. We did ‘food preparation hygiene’
  • recording field trips – using photos or voice or texting back observations to other pupils.  We did a nature walk where leaves / flowers / trees were observed by one group and identified by another group back in the classroom. We experimented by sending text only descriptions, pictures or voice calls and combinations of those to see which was the most effective. (Also posting back pictures to their blog / wiki whilst they are actually on the walk.)
  • be in different places working on the same project and be talking via instant-messaging.  Our example was a history  ‘Treasure Hunt’ where groups were competing to find objects and information. The groups split up and group members updated each other on progress using mobile phones.
  • recording science experiments and including the pictures /video with their written reports.
  • Using twitter. History teachers chose a period in history (was the second world war) and had groups of evacuees, host families, parents of evacuees back in bombed cities sending messages to each other about their feelings.
  • Use twiddeo to upload video made on mobile phone to twitter.
  • Make a tee-shirt using Reactee on twitter that you can wear in the classroom. Ours was a line to ring to get homework assignments and deadlines.
  • Photoblogging using telephones. (Blogger is particularly good for phones). We did local landmarks and geographical features. Also a vocabulary exercise where each person was given a word to illustrate with three photographs by the end of the day. (If you are going to use blogs use one that is mobile-friendly – like WordPress where you can get a plug-in called WP-Mobile so that students can access them from their mobiles)
  • Making slideshows for mobile phones You can make slideshows for mobile phones. It’s easy but you need a few basic techniques (which we can share if people are really interested.)  We made ‘revision’ slideshows which each teacher could produce for their subject area to be viewed on mobile phones.
  • Brainstorming using wiffiti. We found wiffiti is a wonderful way of getting pupils to create a communal, real time visual brainstorm, on a screen, from their cell phones.
  • Accessing Voicethread. You can use mobile phones to comment on Voicethread, which is a ‘digital conversation’ application. (We used some pictures of geometrical patterns and shapes and asked people to comment using mobile phones on where they could see those shapes and patterns in their townscape or in nature.)
  • Making simple Stop Motion animations. Take lots of photos on a mounted mobile phone e.g of a Plasticene model or bendy toy then import them into a slideshow presentation and set the show to change slides on the fastest (e.g 1 second) autochange. We did pictures of a the notes of a simple tune drawn with felt pen on an A1 sheet then ‘moved’ an arrow to each note in turn so that the pupils could see which note was being sung.
  • To save the cost of texting, use freebiesms on your computer
  • For those students with Bluetooth, a natural progression from students e-mailing homework or assignments might be to get them to send it by phone to your laptop at the beginning of a lesson.

Plans for future events

  • Experimenting with QR codes into which you can embed text, url, phone numbers and sms. (Camera phones can have software freely installed on them to recognise these codes and decipher them into meaningful text/links/images. This could be useful for homework or for embedding a ‘live’ link on a paper-based worksheet.)
  • Experimenting with 12seconds.tv for asynchronous debates, for synthesising work, commenting on Voicethread, making composite class documentaries, as a reflection tool for e-portfolios, as an ideas box, exemplifying good practice
  • Thinking about how we are going to use Google Wave

Thanks Mr Belshaw http://teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk for these great ideas – he should be on everyone’s RSS together with his blog http://dougbelshaw.com/blog .”

16 Responses to “25 practical ideas for using Mobile Phones in the Classroom”

  1. Doug Belshaw says:

    Great list here – thanks for the link to my blog(s)! :-)

  2. r4 dsi says:

    This post will blessing for student who take mobile in their classroom I am very excited about this one it is really very nice thing for you.You give very interesting and nice ideas.Thank you.

  3. jack drolet says:

    Another great one is to make a set of questions with Google Forms. Put students in groups and send the form. Usually at least one will be able to answer questions on their smartphone. Makes for a fun or interesting group quiz and nice to have instant feedback. Can be instantly graded by installing the script Flubaroo.

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