Pedagogical Use of Mobile Phone

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Mobile phone school
The mobile phone, or the cell phone, was introduced in 1973 in New York. At the time it was huge, weighing dozens of modern cells and had a very restricted area of coverage, what is more, they were analog (*1) and not digital (*2).

Only a decade later, in 1983, the first commercially viable model reached the market, the DynaTAC 8000X, Motorola, weighing 794.16 grams.

You can find some facts about the history of mobile phones in the links at the end of this article.

My first phone was a "brick" that was introduced by a Motorola line of microcellular, the MicroTAC. At the time (the 90s) it was very expensive and worked only in a few "enlightened" places because most of the country was still a shadow area (*3) for the then fledgling mobile phone.

I confess that at the same time, I saw no other use of the cell phone which was the power to speak at different places with the same device. The cell was then just a phone and only adults who were willing to invest a reasonable amount, and they had a good reason for that, were willing to buy it.

Motorola Microtac
Today the cell phone is one of the most common technological devices. According to the research held by the Center Manager of the Internet in Brazil, in 2008 52% of Brazil's population had cell phones already. In large urban areas it is almost impossible to find anyone over 14 years old, who does not have a cell phone.

Cell phones today are small, lightweight, have durable batteries, one can find them in almost all work places and they ceased to exercise only the phone functions long ago. Nowadays mobile phones are true central computerized multimedia (*4) with the help of which you can call (Yes! Mobile phones also serve to call!), listen to the radio, mp3, watch TV, take pictures, make movies, record voice, play games, send and receive e-mails or files and connect to the Internet, and so on and so forth.

And it is precisely because central computerized multimedia cell phones are no longer just phones and now have multiple purposes. And of course among useful features we can single out educational ones!

Dispelling some myths

Before suggesting educational uses of the mobile phone it is necessary to dispel some myths about the presence of a cell phone in school and the main one is that says a cell phone in school is unnecessary and, moreover, hinders the progress of studying.

Some teachers complain that cell phones distract students. It's true. But it's not the cell phones that distract student's attention. What causes a distraction for students is the lack of interest in class. Clear example of this is that in many schools and many classes students are not distracted by their phones, despite being with them in their backpacks, pockets or on the desks.

Some argue that students use cell phones to paste. Well, it is probably true. Students stick whenever they are faced with tests and activities that allow or encourage the glue. These tasks and activities are generally poor and only require an answer "decorated" or laid out alternatives, to put true or false or give a number as the answer. In such cases collar is the most intelligent solution in response to an assessment. Tasks which make students think, build their own answers or perform "actions" are really helpful, as there is virtually no collar, either with a cell or without it. Moreover, every teacher knows well that the "glue technology" is much older than the phone.

Paper airplane
Some say that students use cell phones for purposely "fooling around" with the teacher or with peers in the classroom. It's true! But they make fun in those classes even without cell phones, throwing paper airplanes, paper balls, making jokes and thousands of other possible tricks. It is not the phone that encourages students to misbehave but their desire to confront the teacher. The solution of these cases has nothing to do with phones, and has no relationship to paper airplanes (Really, you can't forbid students to bring books because they make airplanes from sheets of paper).

It is argued that the Internet allows students to have access to inappropriate materials, and to misuse it, there are also those who say that cell phones encourage students to violate the rules and ethical standards and morals. But has it ever been actually necessary to have a cell phone for violating these rules? They can assist in ethical and moral training of their students, and do not do that with imposition, omission or simple prohibition. Ethics and values are transdisciplinary content that must always be present, even when dealing with new technologies.

Some say that it is embarrassing for students who do not have cell phones to socialize with others who have them. Probably it is also true, but it is equally true for the sneakers they wear, to jeans, to the notebook, to the bag, the clock, and so on and so forth. At school we learn to live with the differences and understand the reality that produces them. We can not simply assert that everybody wears the same clothes (despite the requirement of uniforms at some schools), has the same learning materials, making use of the same vocabulary, the same toys and most importantly, has the same ideas.

Finally, all the arguments often heard advocating the prohibition of cell phones in schools reflecting few arguments, where the real problems reported, concerning teacher's management of the classroom or the way the school itself and not the student idealizes the cellular phone. Before the cell phone appeared these same arguments were used to prohibit Walkman, playing cards, board games, magazines, radio batteries, calculator, and so on and so forth. In fact sometimes I have the impression that some teachers would like that their students were naked, tied to the portfolio and with a gag in their mouth.

Besides all these, there is also a fairly frequent argument to justify the prohibition of cell phones in school: they do not help the teacher at all, so why allow them? Let us expand a little more on it.

  • Have you, Professor, ever used a radio, a radio recorder or a player to play sounds in the classroom?

  • Ever used a calculator in a class?

  • Have you made use of a TV, a VCR or a DVD in some activity?

  • It maintained contact with students by e-mail, the Internet or other device that allows communication at a distance?

  • Have you done any activity where it is necessary to take pictures or record a movie?

  • Already proposed some interview that was recorded and then transcribed?

  • Have you used electronic games (video games) with your students?

  • Used usual dates of delivery of work to your students and asks them to write them down?

  • Have you ever asked your students to copy something written on the blackboard?

  • Have you ever said to them: "Pay special attention to the explanation that I'll give in a moment" or something like that?

  • Already consulted the time to know how close to the end of class or have used a timer to let you know when the students are five minutes late for your class?

Well, if you've made at least one of the activities or actions described above, then know that it could have been made on an equivalent basis with the use of modern cell phones and often, even so much more effective!

Using the phone in school

Let me tell a short story:

MEC sends books to schools, but sometimes there is not enough books for everybody. In 2009 I came across a situation, when there were no books in a class and the students had to share books between two classes. But it didn't let students take books home for studying... What can one do in such a situation?

Sometimes I would ask the students to copy the most important parts of the book and we would say that this was a "matter to be studied." So a lot of class time is being spent in vain, because we have this time available, do we? Moreover, the goal is to train students handwriting or upset the students, make copies of books and in such cases even the board is really "useless." It's possible to photocopy a few pages, but it is expensive so few schools can afford it.

But we need not do anything like any more. Now just ask students to pick up their phones and photograph the important pages of the book! And that was really what the students did.

The same story happens with the board and even for literature searches in the library. When a student has asked me today if they need to copy notes from the blackboard, I just urge them to do something smarter: shoot the board! And they do!

This is a very short story, which is just one among many others, it allows me to list some suggestions for the educational use of modern cell phones in the classroom and beyond:
  1. If you do calculations at some point in your classes and ask students to make them, and unless for some good reason they should make these calculations with specific algorithms and using paper and pencil, then strongly consider the possibility of using cell phones as calculators . Also, if you're a teacher of mathematics and want to teach your students how to solve arithmetic expressions obeying the rules of operator precedence, consider that the use of calculators, mobile phones and so on, consists of a very effective method of doing it, because the machines are that we determine the order for the operations, the mobile phone is also a calculator;

  2. If you mark the dates of exams, delivery dates or other work that is important for students to remember, ask them to write these dates. Not in the notebook, but the agenda of the phone! They walk with the phone in your pocket all the time and are only close to the notebook when they are at school, right? The mobile phone is an agenda that has an alarming mechanism;

  3. It is possible to create a service for sending warning messages via email or via instant messaging. By phone you can receive updates of sites, blogs and even Twitter messages, and do the opposite. If you want to go a step further you can create such a service and make it available for your students, the cell phone service also provides news reading and publishing;

  4. The modern cell can record sounds, images (photos) and both (movies). All these features serve to "record". One should allow and even encourage their students to take photos of teacher's slate instead of copying it into the notebook. This allows them to pay attention to you while you speak and write, rather than to divide attention between what you say and what they copy in notebooks. The same thing should be done with important explanations that can be recorded as sounds or captured as movies. Imagine how much more interesting it is for students to watch or hear the material than just to read notes, not always faithful, made in the books! Teachers should use these features to record activities and a cell phone will be useful for that as it has a digital camera, a digital camcorder and a digital radio recorder;

  5. Suggest using mobile phones as tools to develop students work. As mentioned above, with the phone they have a voice recorder, image and video, even though they themselves do not have the habit of recording their activities. This is what we call "making-off" activities and at the end of the day, this is the only record that interests us and not the result of the activity. For example, if they have to make a model, why not shoot all the steps and then turn that into a movie (animation), which can be included as part of the activity itself? The mobile phone is a tool for recording, editing and publishing.

There are endless possibilities for pedagogical use of modern cell phones in the classroom and beyond. What is interesting for you? It certainly depends on how you, professor, use the technology yourself, in your classrooms and with your students. Who does not see any pedagogical use for radio, television, camera, a camcorder, recorder, calculator, calendar, etc.., Then we will not see any use of the phone, because that is what it represents today: it is no longer a simple phone, the phone is a multimedia powerhouse computer.

By the way, it has always been very common that schools lack technological resources, especially in public schools. With the introduction of a cell phone schools began to have lots of these resources, and it's good not only for schools but also for students! This should be celebrated, even if we do not agree that students prefer to use their parents cell phones than encyclopedias, for with the phones they have won many learning opportunities that previously were not possible because schools hadn't had such resources. This is fascinating, isn't it?

Some final care

But before you go around reformulating all its practices and instituting mandatory use of cell phone in school, keep in mind that we still have many students who are not mobile or who have cell phones that do not have all the features mentioned here. Moreover, in some states and municipalities (and there are arrangements with a law valid for the whole country) the use is prohibited in school. Therefore, you must always:
  • propose activities that involve the use of mobile phones to groups of students with at least one student in the group possessing the proper device to be used;

  • allow students to learn to use the resource before proposing it as part of an activity. Students usually dominate the cellular better than their teachers and learn quickly to use it, so it's a good idea "to let them teach themselves and learn to use the resource among themselves" (also to learn and enjoy!)

  • discuss the ethical and moral issues involved in using images and records as well as the misuse of mobile phones and other media equipment;

  • clearly establish the planning of their activity, and describe in detail in your lesson plan, the objectives of mobile phone use in the proposed activities. There will always be someone to be angry with the fact the phone is being used in your class, unfortunately;

  • and, finally, establish clear rules for use of cell phones in school in general and in particular during the lessons when the phone isn't used "as part of lessons," just as you set the rules for use the cards, board games, the paper airplanes and everything else.

Note that it is not difficult to negotiate when you can and when you should not use the phone. Do it the same way as other established rules of a school. The most common conflicts that arise in the classroom because of lack of a clear definition of these agreements and the belief in dangerous assumptions, such as the student "should know of course what's right and what is wrong."

It is also important to discuss with students the ethical and moral limits of the use of cell phones, and other modern technological means, outside the school. The phone is a part of students everyday life , so it is also a part of our task as educators to teach them how to use it wisely. And this is another good reason to use cell phones in school as teaching tools, because with this we are naturally led to the context of its responsible use and we can play our role as educators in a natural way.

  1. Analog Signal: signal which varies with time. Information is transmitted through these changes.

  2. Digital Signal: signal transmitted form of the "zero" and "a", i.e., information is transmitted in binary form.

  3. Shadow area: the region where mobile phones can not connect to any transmission tower and therefore do not work.

  4. Central multimedia computer: this term is being used here to describe an apparatus that provides a variety of media (text, radio, TC, etc.) So digital is one that controlled by a processor (computer).

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2 comments of our visitors:

27 January 2012 wrote:
I think it is great that we are able to have such a big coverage and our devices are so multifunctional. I also remember my first sell phone and it was also Motorola. It was extremely heavy and it didn’t have a nice design comparing to those modern gadgets we have now. I guess mobile gadgets developing even faster than we are able to think about it!
07 February 2012 wrote:
I am not at school anymore, however I would also prefer to make photos of the material that is written on the blackboard, rather than writing it down. That saves time. Moreover, re-writing sometimes just wastes our time. Plus, an alarm is a really good option for your exam, because once I even forgot about it. At the moment, I would put it to my calendar for sure
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