*note: the tools described below do not require a "smart" phone
Tonight's Twitter #edchat topic was "Which emerging technologies will have the greatest impact on K-12 education in the next 5 years". One of the recurring themes (partly due to my persistence in bringing it up over and over) was BYOD. I began dabbling with using student-owned cell phones as learning tools during the last month of classes this year. I began with http://www.polleverywhere.com/. It's an easy (and free) polling tool that works via SMS. I prepped my polls in advance, and students texted responses which were projected onto the large screen. There is the option for multiple choice questions (with instant graphing of results) or short answer. If this sounds familiar, basically the students' own cell phones served as "clickers". Cost to the district: $0 Value of student response: Priceless
The second tool I tried was Google Voice. As a French teacher, speaking is a large part of what students need to be able to do in order to be proficient. In the past, review would consist of practice conversations in pairs, with as much feedback as I could manage by circulating around the classroom, or practice conversations between myself and a single student, where students would critique the performance, but were otherwise minimally engaged. With Google Voice, I set up conversation parameters, and began the conversation as I would in a testing situation. Each student then dialed my Google Voice number (a randomly generated phone number -- it is connected to my cell phone number, but by setting the preferences to "Do Not Disturb", my personal phone is out of the loop) and left a voice mail for me with their response to my conversation starter. I then played back each response, giving feedback. Each student was able to speak, and receive feedback in a single class period, and they learned from each others' mistakes. I also used Google Voice in conjunction with Voki to allow speaking practice outside class. I created a Voki which asked students questions on a topic. Students responded to the questions in a voice mail.
Due to budgetary restraints, my school district isn't going to be able to provide 1:1 devices (apart from a few semi-functional laptop carts shared throughout the building) for my class anytime soon. I also am one of the few teachers without an IWB. Cell phones were my way of accomplishing my goals without.
So my plan for next year, is to dive in headfirst, and acclimate the students to using their cell phones as a routine part of the learning experience in my classroom. To that end, in response to the administration's request that school supplies be posted on all department websites before we leave for the summer, I added a request (yes, request, not requirement) that students who already have cell phones, bring them to class. I believe this to be key: public schools cannot require students/parents to purchase cell phones/data plans for their children. This seemed to be the biggest hurdle for most of the #edchat tweeters this evening when it came to the idea of BYOD. The solutions I used were simple, and quite effective: students with cell phones shared with students who had none. This is the same solution I use when:
- students do not have a writing utensil
- students do not have paper
- students do not have their textbook with them
Sharing was relatively seamless, and for those who fear that students will lose the ability to interact face-to-face, sharing requires such interaction.
I also allow students to use my personal device (I confess...it's a "dumb" phone) which adds one more device to the mix.
With Google Voice, the classroom land line is also an option.
Yes, indeed, I did have one negative experience with the cell phones. While students were supposed to be recording voice mails, I had a couple of girls texting some inappropriate messages. But in the days before cell phones, might they not have simply passed notes? And, let's face it, you can't stab someone with a cell phone like you can with a pencil. If we ban the tools, the students will never learn to be responsible users, and isn't that part of 21st Century Learning?
Credit where credit is due: At the end of the chat, Jackie Gerstein suggested that I blog about my request for students to bring cell phones to class next year, so thank you Jackie. There will surely be much follow-up when the school year begins.