On March 11, the Pearson Foundation and Nokia hosted the New Learning Institute Leadership Summit on Mobile Phones at the National Association of Secondary School Principals' annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
The NLI Leadership Summits are designed to bring educators together with digital media practitioners and researchers to begin or continue the conversation about how to introduce and integrate new media practices into the classroom.
Outside of school, young people increasingly rely on their cell phones to communicate and collaborate. Prohibiting the use of these devices in the classroom may be leading teachers to miss out on an opportunity to engage students by meeting them where they are. Moreover, cell phones may actually prove to be a valuable tool to promote independent learning, anytime and anywhere.
The Summit featured four speakers, activities that used cell phone computers, and short videos that showcased NLI programs and efforts to document best practices.
School-wide Integration of Cell Phones — Dr. Kipp Rogers, Ph.D
Kipp Rogers is Principal of Passage Middle School in the 33,000-student Newport News, Virginia school district. He has had leadership experience at all levels. He formerly served as Principal of an Environmental Science Elementary School, Assistant Principal at a Math, Science and Technology Middle School and a Performing Arts High School. Under Dr. Rogers’ leadership, the staff of Passage Middle School achieved high levels of professional learning and meaningful collaboration after looking at data and integrating technology. Those significant efforts resulted in increased student performance in reading, writing and math.
Two years ago he was teaching a math class and realized that he didn’t have enough calculators. After loaning his cell phone to a student in order for him to use the calculator function, he realized that there were many built-in features in common cell phones — including text messaging — that when sensibly applied, could be used in a variety of instructional settings. He searched the web for applications that took advantage of cell phones such as PollEverywhere.com, Voki, and Textmarks and began using them strategically in limited settings. He encouraged ambitious teachers who were the most enthusiastic advocates of integrating technology into the classroom to experiment with using cell phones. The school developed a culture of appropriate behaviors with respect to the use of the devices, never allowing them to become distractions, and guarding against the possible use of them for cheating.
Dr. Rogers has a simple recipe for introducing cell phones into a school:
Consider School Board policies
Conduct a survey of students
Establish rules and guidelines
Solicit additional buy-in. Send a letter home to parents
Begin with simple activities
What has resulted is a school where the use of cell phones is no longer a novelty and where teachers and students alike have incorporated them seamlessly into the day’s activities. Administratively, cell phone applications are deployed to update parents and to provide reminders to students. Levels of engagement have risen, and students — most of whom are “always on” outside of school — are not required to be "always off” once they reach the classroom.
Full Integration in a Classroom in Keller Texas — Matt Cook and the Keller Mobile Initiative
Matt Cook is a fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas outside of Fort Worth. Inspired by a talk he heard by Elliot Soloway at a technology conference, Cook began making phone calls. He contacted Soloway to understand how to better use GoKnow, an integrated suite of applications designed for cell phones running Windows. Then he called Verizon and to his surprise, was asked to provide a test classroom for putting cell phones at the center of the students’ educational experience. Once he had those pieces in place, he invited a parent to serve on the advisory board of the Keller Mobile Initiative and got buy-in from the district to support his small but vanguard effort. With phones, data plans, and parent and district buy-in, Clark had all of the ingredients to bring integrated applications and 24/7 Internet access to students who were delighted to be using mobile devices every day in the classroom.
Eventually the school withdrew Cook’s mobile phone-based program but he continues to advocate for the benefits New Learning brings to students.
Dr. Elliot Soloway, University of Michigan — Going Mobile
View Soloway's film Educating the Mobile Generation
Dr. Soloway is a leading voice for using cell phone computers for learning. He argues that the essentially zero-cost, highly portable, omnipresent, easy to learn, easy to use mobile computing device affords unique opportunities for self-expression and communication that are critically important for the youth of today to take advantage of and master. Indeed, the youth of today already recognize the unique, multifaceted role that the cell phone plays in their lives. Take a Blackberry away from a salesperson and you render them ineffective. Take a cell phone from a teenager and reduce that teenager to tears — in effect, the teenager is in solitary confinement!
The world of commerce has latched onto the cell phone with increasing demands; the governments of the world increasingly are connected by cell phones; and the world’s teenagers already use the cell phone to stay in touch with their posse and express themselves through the production of pictures, audio, video and “txts.”
However, Soloway adds, just as parents need to help children mature and “get the most out of life,” our youth need to be mentored in using the cell phone — to wring-out, leverage and exploit all that this little, innocuous device has to offer. Soloway is a principle of GoKnow, a software company that provides an integrated suite of applications designed for mobile devices running Windows CE. GoKnow applications enable students to centralize all of their classroom work in one place, as well as give them 24/7 access to the internet at school and at home. Soloway points out that in addition to providing an “always on” access to point to the Internet’s vast resources, this is also an important step to narrowing the digital divide.
Nancy Chou, the New Learning Institute — New Learning at the Field Museum, Chicago
Nancy Chou, a former teacher and currently a lead program designer with the New Learning Institute, described programming she has developed with the Field Museum in Chicago. Working in connection with the museum’s Museology Program for Chicago Public School students, Chou and her counterparts at the Field identified key “digital moments” that made possible opportunities for collaboration, communication, and the production of digital media artifacts.
Learn more about NLI's work at the Field Museum
The Museology program, which runs once a week during the school year and for which students earn credit, had only a small digital media component before this year. Chou introduced them to blogging, mobile interviewing, and the use of a social network to post media and share ideas.
A different set of CPS students took part in a public service announcement about global climate change. This curriculum was designed collaboratively between the Field and the New Learning Institute. During this two-day workshop, held twice in February, students working in small groups, developed PSAs, first creating storyboards, then performing, filming, editing, and finally posting them to the social network.
Chou’s work with the Field exemplifies the increasing opportunities that informal learning environments — museums, libraries, after school programs — afford students who are taking greater control over the production and dissemination of knowledge outside of school. She reinforces that digital media practices are at the center of making that happen.
Judy Pederson, Santa Ana High School — Using Cell Phones with First Generation Students in Santa Ana, California
Judy Pederson is a high school teacher in a predominately Hispanic school in Santa Ana. Over ninety percent of her students are first generation Americans. Many of their parents speak a language other than English at home and many of them have less than a high school education. The struggle to engage and motivate her students is constant.
But for the second year, Pederson has been using cell phones for a range of activities in the classroom. While she is quick to admit that it is not a panacea for all of the challenges she faces daily, she has discovered that meeting students where they are and recognizing that their cell phones are an important tool in their social lives, goes a long way to promoting engagement.