iPhone.jpgApple's iPhone, introduced in 2007, was of course the first hugely popular smartphone but there was an attempt at producing and even marketing multifunctional cell phones as early as 1993 when IBM offered up The Simon, a mobile phone with a touch screen, fax capabilities, and some other data services that would later be associated with Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) devices. It never had much of chance of catching on with anyone outside of big business. Heavy and expensive, it required big and really deep pockets at $899. In 1996, Palm debuted the Palm Pilot, a mobile data device costing $300, which immediately became a status symbol for executives, much like the sizable cellular phone Gordon Gekko toted around in the original release of Wall Street.

In 1998, with the Communicator, Nokia brought us the first flip out keyboard but the device still had a gray screen and next to nothing in the way of Web browsing. In 2002, Blackberry finally delivered Web browsing and email capabilities in tandem with a phone in the way of the Blackberry 5810. It still required a plug in headset but that would disappear for good within two years. As more companies entered the market, phones became more and more powerful and cheaper.

The much anticipated iPhone arrived in 2007. Its elegant touch-screen interface appealed to many besides the legions of loyal Apple customers who stood in line to be among the first to buy one. Along with the popular new interface, the phone boasted text messaging, an internet client, a camera, a media player, and Wi-Fi connectivity. In 2008 Apple began selling downloadable applications (apps) for the phone at its iTunes store. These apps, currently numbering over 200,000, are mostly developed by third parties. They range widely in their uses, including anything from business productivity tools to frivolous games and educational products. Google decided in in 2007 to take on the mighty iPhone. Their Android operating system, available in a wide array of smartphones, has since become a formidable challenger to both the iPhone and products using the Blackberry platform. While the number of Android applications available (free or for sale) currently lags behind Apple's offerings, the gap is closing quickly. To be sure, there are other players in the field, including Microsoft. Whatever the flavor, anything called a smartphone nowadays has the computing power and connectivity to be thought of as a handheld personal computer. A Brief History of Smartphones, pcworld.com.

Video Overview of Cellphones and Schools:

Related Theories

Constructivism aligns very well with the use of this technology because it enables numerous modes of inquiry which afford students more ways to make sense of the world on their own terms.

Social Learning Theory also aligns well with the use of this technology because it enables numerous social occasions which afford students more opportunities to observe and then learn from others.

Behaviorism fits well within the use of smartphones. As students are able to stay connected to teacher - in real time - their inputs can be immediately discussed in class as they are sent. The students can receive instantaneous reinforcement, both positive and negative, and become conditioned.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory may be considered a conflicting theory; Maslow might wonder if there aren't other things we should be taking care of before worrying about all the novelties--often frivolous ones--that come with such technologies.


Convenience. The internet fits in your hand, and when you're done, it fits in your pocket. So does a the HD camera. And a media player! And your music library! And your calendar. All of your contacts--which are all a couple of buttons away at most. In other words, inspiration to create something--to name the world what you think it should be named--is at your fingertips and it fits in your pocket!

Durability. With most smartphones, back-up copies of all of the information on your phone is kept in your platform provider's website, i.e. within your iTunes account. The result: no more worries about losing all your contact information and all your music downloads if your phone is lost, stolen, or damaged. The only downside is that syncing your smartphone with the provider's website can be time consuming.

Interactive learning. Handhelds hold great promise in this regard. The portability of the device allows students to share ideas easily with others wherever they may be. Consider the fact that teens with cell phones send more than 400 text messages each week and over a hundred a week in class! Were a teacher able to channel some of that thinking toward the task at hand, who knows . . .

Educationally Relevant Applications. Handhelds have a wide variety of uses in this regard. Voice recording technology on handhelds in collaboration with software like VoiceThread can allow students to participate in phonecasting. These audio clips can be implemented into visual presentations such as powerpoint or they can be implemented with video captured from handheld devices. Qik is an example of an application that allows transmission of video between handheld devices and computers. Video conferencing is possible with many handheld devices such as Iphones. Teachers can implement surveys and polls with applications such as Wiffiti and Polleverywhere or they can remind students of homework assignments using HomeworkNow or RaveWireless.

Interfaces With Other Educational Technologies. With a smartphone, students can take most, if not all, of the educational benefits Blogs, Twitter, Internet, Online Courseware, Webquests, YouTube, GoogleEarth, and Facebook with them where ever they go. That's powerful stuff!

Cellphones help to fight poverty


Is it fair to promote their use if some students don't have them? Are they too expensive to distribute to every student? Who pays?

Actually, most people have a cellphone and we're closer to a majority of people having a smartphone than many people realize.
For those who don't have one, a subsidy could be provided, perhaps involving a partnership between school districts and the private sector. There has been some thoughts within the current National Telecommunications and Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) of proposing a larger "Broadband Stimulus Package" that would make smartphone ownership more affordable to low-income households.

Are they distracting?

The consensus is yes. According to Common Sense Media, sixty-nine percent of U.S. high schools have banned their use or possession at school.
Just ask this professor if he thinks cellphones are distracting:

Do they enable cheating?

According to one survey, more than a third of teens reported using a cell phone to cheat. They claimed close to two-thirds of their classmates were cheating with them. More than half admitted to using the internet to cheat in some way.

Special Guidance

Common Sense Media, a national organization dedicated to helping kids and their parents make smart decisions about media consumption, offers thorough reviews of smartphone applications aimed at children and families.

Within the classroom, smartphones pose some unique problems that a teacher would need to address prior to there use. First, any responsible teacher must have a clear sense of purpose before considering using such devices in school, particularly in light of the challenges listed above. A serious risk-versus-reward analysis needs to be considered.

Teachers should check school and district policies before designing their lesson plans. They should also check on smartphone availability for students as they may not have access to these expensive devices.

Current Research & News

A Pew Survey tracking roughly two thousand adults from April 2009 to 2010 confirms what many would suspect. Increasingly, people using their cell phones for more than just voice conversations.

Some other interesting notes from the Pew Survey, which could help teachers make the case for use of smartphones at school.
- Minorities continue to own cell phones at a greater rate than whites. They also continue to use more of the data functions available on the phones.
- Smartphone usage is strongest among 18-29 year-olds:
  • 95% send or receive text messages.
  • 93% use their phone to take pictures.
  • 81% send photos or videos to others.
  • 65% access the internet on their mobile device.
  • 64% play music on their phones.
  • 60% use their phones to play games or record a video.
  • 52% have used their phone to send or receive email.
  • 48% have accessed a social networking site on their phone.
  • 46% use instant messaging on their mobile device.
  • 40% have watched a video on their phone.
  • 33% have posted a photo or video online from their phone.
  • 21% have used a status update service such as Twitter from their phone.
  • 20% have purchased something using their mobile phone.
  • 19% have made a charitable donation by text message.
- There was a remarkable surge in cell phone use among 30-49 year-olds who are catching up with the younger crowd.

Milwaukee Public Schools in the news . . .

August 12, 2010
Students again allowed to possess cell phones in school, though they aren't able to display or use them. Some find policy untenable.

Lesson Ideas

1. Use cellphones and smartphones as classroom clickers to receive immediate feedback within the classroom.
For example, using the resource www.polleverywhere.com, teachers can set up polls that students can respond to using their cellphones or by their smartphone. Check out our poll for our wiki page. Send in a response with your phone if you so choose to! It should update in live time! (Text the "keyword" (the number next to "yes" or "no") to the appropriate number or address depending on if you are using a cellphone or smartphone.

2. Use cellphones and smartphones with camera capabilities to have students take a pictures of something relevant to the topic at hand. For example, before moving on to the topic of measuring the circumference, diameter, and area of a circle, have students take as many pictures as they can of different circle shaped objects. Then have them actively work with the images on a computer. A high school math teacher implemented this strategy in her classroom.

3. Handheld devices can also be used for digital storytelling. For example, students can participate in phonecasting (mobile audio recording), mobile photosharing, or mobile video webcasting to create technologically rich stories about a wide variety of educational topics. The video here was created in part because of phonecasting: http://lc.celebrateoklahoma.us/video/the-dirty-thirties.

combo.jpg 4. As mentioned previously, smartphones can be used to implement most lessons ideas focused on employing Facebook and Twitter. Please refer to these sections and realize that anything students can do on these applications, they can do better and faster on a smartphone.

Other Classroom Examples:

Brainstorming and Documenting Learning with Handhelds
Film Winner using Cellphone
Class Held Via Cellphone
Mobile to Mobile Learning


A Brief History of Smartphones
Common Sense Media
High Tech Cheating: Cell Phones and Cheating, a national poll by Benenson Strategy group commissioned by Common Sense Media
More Cell Phone Owners Use and App for That, a summary of findings from a survey conducted by Pew Research Center Publications
From Toy To Tool: Cellphone in Learning
Teach Digital
Wireless Quick Facts, information from CTIA, the International Association for Wireless Telecommunications Industry