Digital Storytelling and Blended Learning

Expanding 21st-Century Literacy Skills Using Digital Storytelling

Is This Allowed?

September 3, 2011 by Gayle Nicholls · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

Today I experimented with Google Voice, student discussion and cellphones . Cellphone are not allowed in the classroom of most high schools. In the high school where I teach, cell phones are confiscated by teacher, administrators and the dean of students if they are out. The new dean of students tells students that three offenses will find their cell phones in the vault for an entire semester. Most teachers associate cell phones with cheating or a major distraction.

Today, however, I decided to encourage students to use their precious cell phones to communicate their ideas after a small group discussion during class. I instructed the students to form small groups after I assigned them numbers. I gave them the topic: is photography an art or science? I asked them to  do as much research as they felt was necessary using Google search or Wiki, discuss the topic and come up with a concensus. Once they formulated their ideas I told them to decide on who had the best calling plan and text me their thoughts in 160 characters or less. I allowed them fifteen minutes to discuss, formulate their ideas, and decide who would text.  I monitored their progress and when they had all contributed to the text, I rolled down the screen and turned on the projector. I spent the rest of the period reading off their answers and asking them to tell me what they talked about in their small groups. Somehow only the light of the projector and their answers on the board aided their openness in the discussion.

What a cool exercise. Students were totally engaged and excited to share their answers by cell.  I have had this discussion in past classes with little participation. Today, student participation and engagement neared 100%. Students who rarely participate asked if they could text me their thoughts away from the group.  The funniest thing that happened was a student who ask me, “is this allowed?”


11 Comments so far ↓

  • Lisa M Lane

    I’d love to implement something like this, but I wonder about giving all the students your cellphone number so they could text you?

  • Norm Wright

    We have a system to send absent students a text message, reminding them that class had started. The teacher could send it from a web page so he didn’t have to use his phone in class. One day, a student arriving a little late, had her phone go off just as she entered the classroom. It was her reminder message. I got a little flak from students who didn’t think it fair I was texting during class even though they weren’t allowed.


  • Gayle Nicholls

    Setting up a Google Voice account allows you the anonymity because you can create a new phone number for your students to use. You of course will need to create a separate Gmail account, which I did. I label this account school account. You can choose to forward this number to your cell phone or home phone and can disconnect it from forwarding to your phone, as well. This keeps your cell phone number private and students are sending text messages to your Google Voice via Gmail. That is how I was able to show them their text messages–via my separate Gmail inbox.

  • Gayle Nicholls

    Students will always complain about what is “fair” and I understand their complaints when they are legitimate. Sometimes students are using their phones inappropriately. For example, I had a student who thought that my class was his opportunity to play games on his cellphone. I have to take his cellphone away during class because he is immature and his inappropriate behavior is another reason why the administration doesn’t allow cellphone use in the classroom. I try to be fair. This experiment proved that when instructed students can use their phone appropriately, class is cool and they are engaged because we are using their toys (tools) in a way to communicate and educate.

  • Todd Conaway

    I know that many phones are not yet “smart phones” and that many may never have a smart phone. But, I do think that many who have them would acknowledge that the “phone” part of the devise is really less important and less useful than the other capabilities they have.

    When that is placed over a student population, the phone becomes pretty powerful in how it might assist in learning. I think these tools have a place and I know there will always be people who behave poorly with things, phones or otherwise.

    Good for you for trying and discovering. With regards to texting instructors (or calling them, especially in online courses) I think that as long as there are clear expectations, why not.

  • Jean Proppe

    What a great teaching and technology moment!!

    I just recently inquired at one of the colleges where I teach if they had the technology to support in class texting to live polls. I had recently attended a faculty seminar where we were all asked to take out our smart phones and send a text to a particular number that represented certain answers on the poll. It was very engaging. Sadly when I finally received an answer, it seems none of the institutions where I teach can support this type of in class text/polling.

    How did you project their text on the screen if you don’t mind sharing? I would love to try this as well.

    Thank Gayle :-)

  • Gayle Nicholls

    It was quite an informative moment. I think the most amazing thing is that I think students were willing to “play” along with me because I was “playing” with their toys. They were interested because this was a new experience; not the same old teacher standing in front of the class spewing information at them.

    I think that I will do more of these survey by text as the semester goes on.

    I viewed their text messages in the Google Voice (in my browser) and projected it on the screen via projector. I must say that the small group conversation broke the ice and that the darkened room made it easier for students to talk so early in the semester.

  • Dr. Kelvin Thompson

    “Today I experimented with Google Voice, student discussion and cellphones . I monitored their progress and when they had all contributed to the text, I rolled down the screen and turned on the projector…. Somehow only the light of the projector and their answers on the board aided their openness in the discussion.”

    Thanks for the detailed description!

    A colleague and I demonstrated this exact approach a few months ago as a proof of concept. It is great to hear how this worked “in the wild” (so to speak).

    Some might argue that this is just a “poor man’s alternative” to Twitter, but I think this is a bit more approachable for students since it requires no account set-up; only some teacher planning and the use only of existing student SMS-capable cell phones.

    I think the group aspect of this activity is key as it sidesteps Digital Divide, accessibility accommodations, and similar issues.

    Did you receive *any* student opposition?

    Thanks for sharing, Gayle!


  • Gayle Nicholls

    None of the students objected to this process and many asked if we could do this again. Students were engage because this is the way they talk with each other. They actually thought it was a fun way to share their thoughts.

  • Brian

    What a great idea, using the latest technology in the classroom. Our students today have access to much technology, yet when they are at school, it’s back to the basics, causing boredom to occur. I think this is a great idea for students to learn while engaged in learning because they get to use technology for education.

  • Gayle Nicholls

    Some folks don’t want to be part of a revolution that started a few years ago in schools. What were the technology goals set aside for public school students? We really should encourage the use of technology and learn from their innovation, not discourage it. I have learned so much from students about software, smart phones, websites. I have had to step up my technology tools. It is a bit frustrating dealing with budgets that don’t support the innovation we know is out there.

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