The bring your own device (BYOD) movement in K-12 schools has skyrocketed over the past five years. In fact, about 83 percent of U.S. school districts have policies — or plan to have policies — allowing student devices to be used in the classroom for learning. But BYOD is often dependent on students using whatever technology they have at home, most often a cell phone. And although most teenagers own a cell phone, the fact is, not all phones are created equal; functionality and phone plans vary widely. While 73 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, 15 percent have only a basic phone and 12 percent have no phone at all. That means that activities requiring mobile apps or storage of large amounts of data are not accessible for all students.
That’s why it’s important for teachers to select activities that both they and all of their students can do using any phone or phone plan. So before creating activities, make sure to survey students about their phones and phone plans.
In general, all phones can text and make phone calls. Below are three ways to connect learning with any phone.
1. Text alerts
Text alerts are messages that go out to an entire group, such as students, parents or both. Alerts can be one-way (teacher to student), two-way private (teacher to student to teacher) or two-way open (teacher to student to students/teacher). Here are some pedagogical strategies for using text alerts to enhance learning:
Managerial. Send quick announcements, such as homework reminders or upcoming class activities. It is usually one way from the teacher to the student or teacher to parent.
Project based. Use the alert as a way for students to produce or participate in a classroom project. For example, an English teacher might ask her students to text an original poem for an assignment along with a visual image of what inspired the poem. Or a social studies teacher might create a virtual debate where students can text back and forth in the voice of a historical character.
Small group. Put students into groups based on their reading and mathematics levels or academic interests and then send tailored messages to those groups. In addition, you can open up the groups (two-way texting) so that they can text back and forth with other group members to collaborate, brainstorm or even create virtual book clubs.
Polling. Send a multiple-choice or free-response poll to students during class. The students can text an immediate response. These are helpful as quick exit tickets, share-outs or basic feedback.
Tutor. Send one-way alerts to help with FAQs during a class activity. You can also assign an older student to send out tutoring help to younger students. Do this by setting up a tutoring line (two-way private), where students can text when they need help and an older student or adult volunteer could text back helpful hints or tips.
Text pals. Pair students with students in a similar grade/classroom from another school. By using the two-way private text alerts, students can learn from each other as pen pals. You can be on the two-way alert to monitor the conversation.
Field trips. Send out a two-way alert during field trips with an activity or poll asking the students to text back their work, such as sending in an interesting fact or image.
Assessments. Use the two-way private alerts to send quick surveys, polls or quizzes to better understand how well each student comprehends a topic. The responses return to you in a private texting file online. Now you have an archive of the quick assessments that you can use to personalize learning.
Personalizing. Send out private alerts to specific groups or students to help scaffold their learning during a class assignment. For example, if a student finishes a class activity quickly, ask her to respond with a summary of how she was able to solve the mathematics problem and the reasoning she used.
Here is a handful of tools to help you create text alerts:
Remind. Teachers can use this tool to schedule text messages in advance. This works great for weekly homework or prescheduling in-class alerts. You can even schedule tweets and send with attachments. It’s a great tool for one-way alerts.
Cel.ly. With this versatile tool, students can participate via cell phone or web, and you can approve student messages before they are sent to the group. Cel.ly allows you to send polls, quizzes and surveys. This is a wonderful tool for text alert projects, field trip activities and text pals!
Joopz. This is an easy way to do multiple group messaging. You can toggle between different classes or groups set up for various alerts. You can also schedule and archive messages.
ClassPager. This tool presents the alert feedback from students graphically. For example, if you text students asking them to vote on an issue, the results will show up in a pie chart.
Some websites allow students to create a new blog post via texting — a.k.a. moblogging. Moblogging is an inclusive option for students to publish digital journals, and it creates opportunities for authentic, real-time collaboration. Below are pedagogical examples of how you can use moblogging to enhance learning:
Field trips. Students can live-blog from their phones about their off-campus experiences rather than waiting until they get back to the classroom. Parents and community members can read the blog as students post live updates!
Classroom reflections. When students are working in groups during class, it is sometimes difficult to know what learning is occurring in each group. Ask students in each group to reflect (via moblog) on their activities as they work so you can offer quick feedback and allow students to review their collaboration.
Ebooks. There are online resources where students can write and publish a piece of literary work using their phones.
Here are a few tools for moblogging:
Twitter. Students and teachers can text to post on Twitter and receive messages and updates on any Twitter feed.
3. Phone calling
One feature of every phone is calling. There are numerous possibilities to connect voice to classroom learning, including:
Podcasting. Students can call in a live podcast on a topic of research. Podcasting directly to the internet from a phone is easier than traditional podcasting because you don’t need to upload a file to a host. You can also do it from anywhere.
Interviews and oral histories. Students conduct interviews to record the experiences of their peers and other community members. Capturing oral histories directly from a phone is appealing because students can conduct their interviews in historical locations.
Discipline discourse. Students call to record their explanations of subject-area concepts or how they arrived at answers in a discipline of study (such as solving a mathematics answer).
Salon/debate. In contrast to an in-class debate, where some students may be nervous to speak in front of their peers, a phone-conferencing tool allows for full participation that archives each person’s speaking role in the debate.
Here are some online tools for phone recording:
Google Voice. With this tool, teachers can get a local phone number that they can give to students and parents. Teachers can record voicemail messages for all their students or different groups of students to hear when they call in. Students can leave voicemail messages that become MP3 downloadable files.
iPadio. This tool allows you to broadcast a recording directly from your phone. The podcasts can be public or private. iPadio has speech-to-text transcription.
FreeConferencePro. This allows large-group phone conferencing. With one phone call, you can set up a phone conference with up to 200 callers and archive it.
Talkshoe. Students can live-broadcast from their phones. The broadcast can include “guest callers” who call in to the broadcast, just like an authentic radio show.
Evoca. This tool allows anyone to call in recordings from a phone. Evoca has a conference-calling feature that allows many students to call in at one time for a conference.
Hipcast. With this tool, anyone can call and record a podcast that posts directly to the internet. Recordings are archived and can be turned into a playlist as well as downloadable MP3 files.
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published June 16, 2015.
Liz Kolb is a clinical associate at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is the author of the ISTE books Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education (2008) and Cell Phones in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for the K-12 Educator (2011). She has published numerous articles and book chapters on new technologies and education in prominent publications, such as Education Leadership, Scholastic, Edutopia, and ISTE's Edtekhub and Learning & Leading with Technology. She is also the inventor and coordinator of the 4T Virtual Conference, which is a free annual conference for practitioners. Kolb is a former social studies and computer technology teacher who spent four years as a technology coordinator and integration specialist in Ohio.