Twenty-four percent of K-12 schools ban cell phones altogether, and 62 percent allow phones on school grounds but ban cell phones in the classroom, according to the most recent national data available.

But it’s about time for those schools to rethink bans on cell phones in the classroom, said Kevin M. Thomas, assistant professor of education at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, who spoke at the 67th ASCD Annual Conference & Exhibit in Philadelphia this weekend.

“We are at a crossroads,” Thomas said to an overflow crowd at his Sunday afternoon session, “Using Cellphones in the Kindergarten Through Grade 12 Classroom.” “We have to decide if we are going to continue to ban cell phones in the classroom, and we have to weigh the balance between pros and cons.”

On the pro side, Thomas said, mobile phones can be used as a cheaper alternative to “clicker” devices, he said.

He described one example of a teacher using Poll Everywhere in a social studies classroom.

As students enter the classroom, the teacher has posted a question on the whiteboard asking students what they believe to be the most important cause of the Civil War.  The students text their answer as soon as they enter the class and are able to watch the changing results displayed in a bar graph on the whiteboard.

Educational content developers are targeting mobile devices as well. PBS and the International Society for Technology in Education, he noted, have a number of content-related cell phone apps, and companies such as the Princeton Review and Kaplan offer texting-based test-preparation questions for the Scholastic Achievement Test.

Thomas said not enough research has been done on teachers’ perceptions of using cell phones in the classroom but added that research has demonstrated that using texting to provide students and parents with regular information about classwork leads to higher assignment completion rates.

QR codes are also making mobile phones more attractive as educational tools.

In a separate session, a team from Catholic High School in New Iberia, LA, described how students combined historical research and a writing project with a QR code project involving the class of 2012.

Their students designed a walking tour of their hometown, converted information into QR codes, and displayed the codes at points of interest so that any smartphone user could scan them for information about local history and building sites. Students left the classroom to research building records and newspaper articles and to interview local citizens.

“To create the Web pages for each site of interest, we used the WordPress blogging tool,” said Erin Henry, technology director at CHS . ‘We wanted the design to be simple, clean, and plain when users open it on a phone.”

The next CHS project is to have students design a school tour with QR codes. The sticking point, however, is that normally students aren’t allowed to use cell phones in school, so exceptions have had to be put in place for testing the QR-coded material.

The cell phone bans are in place, Bellarmine’s Thomas said, because of legitimate concerns about cheating, texting, sexting, and cyberbullying.

Thomas argued that the mobile phones themselves are not causing these problems. They are moral and ethical in nature, not technical.

“These are new forms of old behaviors. Banning will not be the solution,” he said. “We have to educate students about proper way to use cell phones in the classroom.”

Thanks to The Journal for information in this article about cell phones in the classroom.

 David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology. 

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