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Cell Phones: 21st Century Learning Tools?

Cell Phones: 21st Century Learning Tools?

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based on 41 ratings
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Updated on Apr 2, 2014

Cell phones: a defining feature of the youth culture. Educators have labeled them a classroom disturbance, and they have been banned in most schools across the country. But, is it possible to think that there could be, in between the deafening ring tones and the obsessive text messaging, some redeeming educational qualities to these devices?

One teacher says yes.

Liz Kolb converted from being one of those teachers who “didn't see value of cell phones on campus” to devising ways to use cell phones as learning tools. Kolb, a former middle school and high social studies teacher and technology coordinator, said she was doing a blogging activity with a group of teachers when a message popped up on her screen telling her she could create an audio-blog with her cell phone. “It was the easiest podcast I ever made. I said, 'Wouldn't this be a great way to do podcasts as homework!' It was a real ah-ha moment,” she says.

But when she went out searching for resources on how to teach with cell phones, she found none so, she says, “I just started playing around.”

What she came up with was a host of ways educators and parents could use cell phones to enhance learning outside of the classroom, and perhaps just keep students engaged. Kolb, who is now completing her doctorate in learning technologies at the University of Michigan, says while she still thinks cell phones shouldn't be used inside the classroom, she believes there are ways to use a cell phone as “an anytime, anywhere, data-collection tool.”

Take, for example, this science lesson: your eighth grader is learning about ecosystems, and is tasked with taking photos of insects on his phone to be studied later in class. “There is a genuine excitement about the lesson because they can use their own cell phone,” she says. And, says Kolb, when student's can connect their own culture with what's happening in school they're education becomes immediately more meaningful to them.

And, says Kolb, this type of technology integration will better prepare students for the 21st century workforce, where jobs are performed on mobile devices, such as cell phones. “We see it in places where we compete, such as China,” she says. “The fact is that they already value the cell phone as a professional tool. Now we need to teach kids how to use a phone ethically in the work environment of the future.”

Kolb, who highlights her ideas in the new book, Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education, says students don't need the latest high-tech phones to conduct these mini lessons. In fact, she says she did all her research for the book with one of the cheapest phones on the market. About 95 percent of phones today have cameras, albeit poor ones. But, says Kolb, even a poor camera is a teaching moment waiting to happen.

How can you leverage these teaching moments at home? Here are some of Kolb's suggestions for using the phone as a learning device.

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