Embracing the Cell Phone in the Classroom With Text Messaging Assignments

by Kelly Walsh on May 27, 2012

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Can we afford to keep ignoring this dominant means of communication?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been interviewing college staff and faculty as part of our information gathering process while we are working through the development of a 3 year strategic technology plan. The other day one instructor passionately shared his perspective regarding how vital it is that we understand and embrace the world the student lives in and how they communicate. We frequently discuss how we can do the best job of communicating with students, yet at the same time we continue to ignore and bypass the use of texting, a communication technique that is a part of most American high school and college students’ daily lives.

I spent some time this weekend investigating this idea on the web. What do teachers think about this? How about the student’s perspective? Are educators applying this tool in assignments, and if so, how?

The importance and prevalence of text messaging is certainly undeniable. This 2008 study placed the monthly volume at over 75 billion. A 2010 Pew Research report indicates that teens use texting on cell phones to communicate more than they use the voice calls or face to face communication, with 54% using text messaging to contact friends versus 38% calling, and just 33% communicating face-to-face.

But where does this fit into academia? This Spring 2011 study, “Using Text-Messaging in the Secondary Classroom”, conducted by two professors at Bellarmine University, found text-messaging to be beneficial for increasing course-related interaction. Students liked the versatility that mobile phones and text-messaging provide, enabling them to access course materials and communicate with peers and teachers while riding on the bus, waiting to be picked up, or during other ‘down’ time. Since interactivity in (and out of) the classroom can “promote an active learning environment, facilitate the building of a learning community, provide feedback and increase student motivation”, surely the idea of embracing the cell phone and text messaging is an idea worth investigating further.

Using Text Messaging in Class Work and Assignments
There are plenty of articles on the Web discussing the use of cell phones and smart phones in an academic setting. I combed through many of these to find those containing useful suggestions and ideas specific to leveraging text messaging in assigned course work.

  • The NY Times article, “Teaching to the Text Message”, by teacher Andy Selsberg offers a variety of ideas for using text messaging in assignments.
  • Here we have an eHow article, “Text Messaging Classroom Activities” that offers 4 different assignments based on text messaging.
  • This article, “Text Messaging Brings Assignment to Life” discusses an assignment in which students wrote a new scene or rewrote an existing scene Shakespeare’s TheTragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Here is a video by Dr. Phillip Anderson from The Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation at the University of Toronto, in which he discusses “Text Messaging for Classroom Q&A”.
  • The article “Promoting Literacy Through Text Messaging” encourages us to “get excited about text messaging as a form of communication, and encourage your students to write often through email, instant messages, text messages and blogging. Students will soon begin to understand that any type of writing is essential.“ There are a number of ways to use text messaging in assignments in the “Activities” section.
  • Here’s a simple text messaging assignment from “Read Write Web”, focused on The Lord of the Flies, easily adaptable to other books.
  • In this article from Hayo Reinders, “Twenty Ideas for Using Mobile Phones in the Language Classroom”, ideas 6, 8, 9, and 10 leverage text messaging.
  • While the article, “Text messaging & e-Learning in Schools and Colleges”, is trying to sell a product, it offers some useful concepts for text messaging applications in classroom assignments.
  • Another great way to leverage text messaging in the classroom is through the use of text message based polls. This page from PollEverywhere.com offers insights and into doing this with their tool, which has free functionality. In this article, Rutgers instructor Jessica Methot explains how she uses polling techniques to stop ‘social loafing’ during lectures and better engage students.

Another interesting finding I came upon while researching this article is this 2011 poll from Edutopia which asks, “Does text messaging harm students’ writing skills?” With nearly 3000 responses, the results would certainly have some merit. 54% of respondents indicated that they do feel it harms writing skills, but 46% responded otherwise. I thought it was pretty interesting that almost half of the respondents did not say ‘Yes’. I have participated in a number of conversations with friends and colleagues who seem to feel that texting is encouraging bad writing habits. A surprising number of people who took this poll seem to feel differently. I’m starting to think that this probably isn’t the last time I’ll be surprised by text messaging and its relationship to academics.

As always, we would love to read your observations, thoughts, and comments. If you’re considering using text messaging in an assignment, or have already done so, feel free to weigh in with your ideas or experiences. Thanks!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
10 Internet Technologies Educators Should Be Informed About – 2011 Update
4 Free Tools for Sharing Files with Students

Facebook In The Classroom. Seriously.

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Class Workshop in a Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Homework Help June 5, 2012 at 6:20 am

Well said Walsh. Texting is like second nature to the current generation and using it to help them learn is to the advantage since it’ll make education not sound like work and thus make the student enjoy it more.

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