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Eric Sheninger

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Tool for Learning or Distraction?

Posted: 09/06/11 05:01 PM ET

The other day I read an interesting article entitled "Why Schools Should Stop Banning Cell Phones, and Use Them For Learning." Up until this past year, the rule of thumb was that students could bring their phones to my school, but they could not be on, seen, or heard. This rule applied throughout the school day, on or at any school-sponsored functions, and was strictly enforced. I cannot begin to explain all of the battles with students and parents that my administrative team and I had to deal with because of the established policy.

Fortunately for me I have already begun to work with my staff and students to transform the teaching and learning culture at New Milford HS as it pertains to cell phones as mobile learning devices. As a principal, it took me a while to accept the fact that these small, but powerful computing devices could play an important role in the classroom. This shift in mindset can be directly attributed to what I have learned from innovative educators in the social media spaces that I now delve into on a routine basis. The knowledge that I have acquired from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) provided me with the ideas and strategies to utilize student cell phones as mobile learning devices.

Last year some of my teachers began to utilize student devices as tools for learning, mainly as student response systems. For the most part they used a program called Poll Everywhere to check for understanding, review prior learning, and informally assess. The key to effective integration, in my opinion, is the message that was sent to the students prior to use. Each teacher clearly articulated to their students that they would be using their phones in class during a particular time in the lesson for learning. Since we were just beginning to embrace this shift, my teachers would usually convey this message the day before. This also helped to ensure that each student brought their phone to class the next day. In the rare case that a student did not have a cell phone with them my teachers would pair or group them with those that did. Even though there was still a policy in place prohibiting the use of cell phones we did not let it hinder our progress to create a more engaging learning environment for our students.

By the end of last school year, many more teachers were incorporating mobile learning devices into their instruction. I provided a workshop on Poll Everywhere and some tutorials, but many of my teachers experimented on their own time and quickly figured out how to use this web 2.0 resource. As students arrive to school next week they will learn that we are lifting the cell phone ban in the cafeteria during lunch. During my opening remarks to each class I will explain that this change in policy is our effort to empower them to use and view their devices as tools for learning, not just socialization.

As educators we must establish a vision for our students and model the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices in order to empower them to embrace the same view. We live in a world where these devices are a huge part of our student's lives. Schools should position themselves to not only take advantage of this resource as budgets are tight, but also teach students about the powerful tool they possess. I am excited to work with my staff to expand our use of mobile learning devices in our persistent effort to improve teaching and learning. The challenge now becomes convincing other schools, educators, and stakeholders of the importance to move forward with and advance the use of cell phones as mobile learning devices. How can this be accomplished? What needs to happen? Is this just an effort in futility?

 

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