Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

August 8, 2010

Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in Schools?


8-3-2010 – 18:00 CET 12 PM EST 

Make sure your smartphones are TURNED ON!!

Here is an amazing #edchat summary this week from Tara Benwell (@ESL-Library) which explores, very comprehensively, the feelings and opinions of last week’s edchatters on this thorny problem. The discussion was at times polarised and at times consensual and this is really captured in Tara’s summary. For more information on Tara and her work see the bio at the end of the post. 

 With ESLlibrary’s main tweeter on mat leave I was excited to jump in to #edchat on August 2nd to discuss smartphones as mobile learning devices. I was thrilled when Berni approached me about writing the summary for this edu chat since it is closely tied to my current work as an online educator and material writer. Having recently worked on the iPhone app “Learning English with The New York Times,” I’ve found myself wondering whether or not these types of learning resources are being used in class or primarily as self-access materials. With apps, writers and developers are heading into a whole new field and I’m feeling like a beginner again.  This edchat confirmed for me that it is crucial for writers, developers and publishers to participate in conversations with teachers (and students). You are telling us what you and your students need, why you need it, and whether or not we are building the tools and resources in ways that are actually going to save you time and keep your learners engaged. The fact that we can be part of this conversation together is so important and we thank you for inviting us in. 
 It wasn’t long ago that I was skeptical about mobile devices taking over the world. I had finally gotten used to the fact that TVs and computer monitors had to be big enough to take over my entire living room when the newsflash arrived that we NEEDED a netbook. Wait, no. Too big! Now we need an iPhone or at least an iTouch, plus we’ll need an iPad if we’re going to stay on top of this technology. It wasn’t until I got my hands on an actual iPhone that I began to understand why and how these devices could be so useful for students. At the Boston TESOL conference, teachers came by ESL-Library’s booth to inquire about the new language learning apps. Some of the teachers took out their iPhones and spent the $2.99 on the spot for the new Conversation Spanish app. Within moments they had a full course of Spanish in their phones (which they were thankful for as their bags were loaded down with textbooks). It’s obvious that apps are convenient for self-study, but what about in the classroom? According to the teachers at Tuesday’s edchat, apps are extremely useful in class. Teachers who have the privileged permission to use mobile devices in the classroom talked about using them for live polls, for digital story-telling, for texting, and teaching skills (such as mapping) in a more engaging way. But truthfully, as one teacher reminded us, there are many more teachers (mainly those who are not involved in edchat) who do not want mobile devices in the classroom than those who do. They have several concerns. Devices can cause distraction. They can be used for cheating (or finding sites that are non-educational). Many schools don’t have the funds or the wifi. Furthermore, teachers don’t have time to fit extra lessons or activities into their standards-based schedule, even if it would keep the kids from falling asleep in their textbooks. But alas, times are changing, and as another wise tweeter responded, calculators (once questioned for similar reasons) will soon be a thing of the past. As educators of today we mustn’t forget that the teens who are attached to their phones are our next generation of teachers. For many of us, myself included, they will be the teachers of our own children.   
One of the reasons why I believe that mobile devices are here to stay is that the youth in this world really do expect things to be quick and accessible. They want fast Internet and dinner on the table after homework, before soccer, but not when The Bachelor is on because they’re getting too many texts about it.  Despite my involvement in developing apps for English learners, I had assumed wrongly that most learners would use these apps for self-study, on-the-go sessions in between other priorities. Today’s discussion opened my eyes to the possibilities of students and teachers using mobile phones inside the classrooms. This knowledge will change how I think of the content and functionality for the next app that I help build. As one wise tweeter mentioned, these devices are already in their backpacks. Rather than coming up with new rules and punishments, it  is our duty as educators of the mobile generation to address the skeptics and find solutions to the concerns of using mobile devices in the classroom. I agree with @markbrumley who tweeted, “I think mobile devices in the classroom are inevitable. In 10 yrs this discussion will be silly! “ 

Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:  

  • Admin is more interested in banning and punishing the use of mobile devices than exploring possibilities 
  • Mobile devices don’t have to be phones 
  • Real concerns include cost of devices, text plans, access to wifi, equal opportunity, finding quality apps with appropriate content 
  • Apps for certain subjects such as geography, language learning, math are extremely useful
  • Teachers use mobile devices for vocabulary review, polls, cameras, gps, mapping, dictionaries 
  • Question of who should own the devices used in class. Student or School?
  • Will mobile devices make life easier for cheaters?
  • Mobile devices as an inevitable tool in the future classroom (the new calculator debate)
  • Plenty of opportunities for keeping youth interested in education 
  • Mobile devices offer classroom management tools for teachers

Here is a selection of some of the comments:  

@MrROg#rs:  #edchat if admins r scared of phones, remove phone argument. say ipad, ipod, netbook other mobile tech
@SECottrell:   I was told “don’t hold your breath” re: the hopeless tech ban at my school. 3 demerits if I see the phone, 5 if it rings. 
@Ron_Peck:  @CrudBasher What if they can’t afford the cell service and don’t have one?  
@cybraryman1:   Need to first have a policy on use of Smartphones in classroom that is set by students, teachers, admin and parents. 
@cwilkeson:   our administration is so focused on punishing students who possess a smartphone, how can we turn them into learning tools? 
@cpoole27:   We make Our students “turn themselves off” when they come to school, they turn of their phones, their computers, their tech… 
@mrdfleming:   Maybe lots of people are from much richer areas – to me using smartphones in class is just another way to have uneven playing field 
@cpoole27 :  @olafelch they loved the instant feedback, the collaboration with other students, and the lack of pressure in discussing topics 
@CrudBasher:  Smart phones are basically computers, so yes I think every child should have a computer. 
@ColinTGraham:   Much of the discussion around smartphone use reminds me of the introduction of calculators to the maths class, 30 years ago 
@olafelsch:   @ColinTGraham Don’t see the link between smartphones and calculators. The access issue is key here. 
@Folmerica:  Camera function on most smartphones makes the so valuable as a student creation tool. 
@CrudBasher:   Once every child has a smartphone, classrms change from teacher-centric to student-centric. #revolution 
@Ron_Pech:   So how do we avoid students using the phones for socializing instead of instruction? 
@chrismayoh:   If school does not own the device is it more difficult to protect children and impose sanctions for improper use? 
@joe_bower :  @Ron_Peck we dont teach kids not to socialize but rather we teach them to learn by socializing. Like we are now. 
@joe_bower:   Why r tchrs horrified by prospect that kids socialize with technology. How popular would #edchat be if we didn’t socialize while lrning?
@tony_valdrerama:   Maybe we need to develop material (lesson plans, etc.) that include smart phones as a central part of the lesson, a needed tool 
@SECottrell:   Cheating is a character issue that won’t be solved by taking away effective tools 
@MatthiasHeil:  In order to keep cost at zero, there needs to be sufficient Wifi at schools!  (absolutely!)
@Folmerica:  I’m worried that the focus on this type of technology will widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. 
@CrudBasher:  Creating apps is getting easier and cheaper. It’ll be in the hands of teachers soon! 
@ryflinn:  #edchat my kinder students are like teachers they love to have the technology in their little fingers
@regparsons: Presenter at ISTE had a gr8 idea: Have kids make a list of all ways a smartphone can enhance learning. Can’t remember who? 
@ruddler: #edchat Cellphones can be useful. The problem is that the teachers that do not want them in school are louder than those that do.
@Ron_Peck: Bottom line we need to move this technology from the backpacks to the tables and integrate them into our lessons. 
@Mamacita: Why not allow students to use whichever method they want? Books, electronics. . . as long as they’re on the same “page.” heh 
@gbengel: Smartphones are a small window to the world for our students. It connects them, socializes them, teaches them, informs them 
@ESLlibrary: What about apps for homework? Surely there would be less resistance. 
@HPTeachExchange: PEW reserach shows smartphones very prevalent in low socio-economic areas. Small digital divide with mobile? 
@CrudBasher: @kalinagoenglish: #edchat With wireless video u can hook up phone to larger screen. Coming soon!


To follow the complete discussion see here  

For the stats on #edchat participation see here  

As ever, there were some great links shared: 

@ShellTerrell Forest Meet Digital Trees  

@chrismayoh iPod touch project  

@ColinTGraham Minorities Favor Phones in using Web 

@ConsultantsE  8yr olds using smart phones 

@muppetmasteruk MILK 

@rliberni  German Collection of Phone Usage in Classroom 

@drtimony Joo Joo 

@DJ345  Synching apps to several ipods 

@cybraryman1  Cellphones in the Classroom Resources 

@briankotts  The Future of Learning is Informal and Mobile 

@tony_valderrama An Example of Cellphones for teaching Math 

@briankotts Teens and their mobile phones 

@briankotts   Time to leave the lap top behind 

@jackiegerstein Taking IT Mobile Youth Mobile Phones and Social Change 

@SISQITMAN: http://learninginhand.com 

@ESLLibrary  Top 10 Interesting iPhone/iPod Touch apps for ELL 

@TwitClass Wiffiti 

@ShellTerrell  101 best Android Apps for Education 

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer who specializes in online materials for the ELT industry. She works part-time as a content developer and media consultant for Red River Press.com. Tara maintains ESL-Library’s blog, podcast, and newsletter and helps out with the mobile learning division, The English App. She is also the administrator of MyEC, where she creates monthly writing challenges for English learners and explores the challenges of teaching English in an e-community. 


New to Edchat

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 1,000 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts! 

More Edchat


If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.  

What do you think? Leave a comment!



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Julio Ricardo Varela, Berni Wall. Berni Wall said: #edchat summary 3/8 12.00 EST now posted Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in Schools?: http://wp.me/ptGdh-zE #ed… […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in Schools? « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language -- Topsy.com — August 8, 2010 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for sharing the link to the work I created, as shared by Shell Terrell. It would have been nice to have been also included in the edchat summary, since some of my comments led to the sharing of that link. Really looking forward to more edchats.

    Comment by edreformer — August 8, 2010 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

    • We do suggest 20 tweets to try and keep the summary a reasonable length. I’m sorry Tara was unable to include your contribution because of the restriction – I know she struggled to keep to the 20. The 20 is a guide and other guest bloggers have exceeded this but much depends on the detail of the introduction and also the number of people attending edchat and the subsequent number of tweets. Many people also read the archive which has the full transcript of the chat and will have included all comments prior to the link. Links are usually atributed to the person tweeting them. Hope this helps 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — August 9, 2010 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  3. I wrote about near this topic


    Comment by Mr.Saeed — August 8, 2010 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  4. […] writing challenges for English learners and explores the … … Originally posted here: Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in … ← School — Chaoyang District, Beijing – ESL Teachers […]

    Pingback by Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in … | English As A Second Language — August 8, 2010 @ 9:06 pm | Reply

  5. @edreformer Let’s ask the edchat team to “reform” the # of tweets allowed in the summary. I was told 20, but I’ve seen others before me cheating on this rule. 🙂 Narrowing my selected tweets down from the 40+ I originally picked to the 20 above was the hardest part of writing the summary. It was great chatting with you all.

    Comment by Tara — August 9, 2010 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  6. […] out our Ed Chat Summary for August 2nd and leave a comment.  The summary was fun to write, but it was very difficult to narrow it down to […]

    Pingback by Red River Press News » ESL-Library » Edchat Summary: Is there a Place for Smartphones in School? — August 9, 2010 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  7. As an administrator I see the value of Smartphones in the instuructional program. It’s great for enrichment of the instructional program. However, the deterrents for me revolve around the following 2 issues:
    1. Electronic devices eat away at instructional time due to theft. I consider it a misuse of admin time when I investigate the theft of high tech items.

    2. Smartphones are often used by students to text their friends about non instructional issues and in the use of inappropriate websites.

    I’m fresh out of ideas about how to resolve these two issues, even though only a small number of students have these items loss thru theft or confiscation due to misuse. It eats up my time. It takes a lot of time to track down just one phone! Parents who don’t call or make appointments to discuss academic progress or lack of but they will hound an admin relentlessly for assistance in locating a stolen cell phone!

    Comment by Audrey A. Criss — August 9, 2010 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  8. Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in ……

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by World Wide News Flash — August 9, 2010 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

  9. Interesting video here: http://my.bresnan.net/video/play/348780/channels/cnn/us

    Comment by Tara Benwell — August 26, 2010 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  10. […] 7:00 pm EST on Tuesdays. Last month @ESLLibrary was asked to write a summary about an #edchat on Smart Phones in the Classroom. It was a great discussion. Please check out our summary about mobile learning and leave a comment. […]

    Pingback by Red River Press News » ESL-Library » September News — September 7, 2010 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

  11. We need to look at innovators who are exploring this type of technology. Ideally, each student would have a smart phone with Internet access (with adult content filters). They could use them to respond to teacher questions and search for information they need in order to support their own learning. Each student could search for what gathers their interest and passion. The goal is in site.
    Keep the faith. Check out DrDougGreen.Com for easy professional/self-development.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

    Comment by Douglas W. Green, EdD — November 19, 2010 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment Douglas and I agree there is much potential here and with measures as youo suggest teachers shouldn’t be afraid to consider these phones as educational tools. There is, of course, a cost element to it which has to be considered but I think it is worth educators having this conversation!

      Comment by rliberni — November 25, 2010 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  12. […] been a while since I wrote an #edchat review and I was happy to volunteer to summarize this week’s #ELTChat. I blogged about the topic […]

    Pingback by Red River Press News » ESL-Library » How do you revisit taught material and recycle effectively? — March 3, 2011 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  13. […] been a while since I wrote an #edchat review and I was happy to volunteer to summarize this week’s #ELTChat. I blogged about the topic […]

    Pingback by How do you revisit taught material and recycle effectively? #ELTchat summary 02/03/2011 | #ELTchat — March 3, 2011 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  14. Very interesting post! 🙂

    Comment by flashuac — May 2, 2011 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  15. […] Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in Schools? #Edchat  8-3-2010 – 18:00 CET 12 PM EST  Here is an amazing #edchat summary this week from Tara Benwell (@ESL-Library) which explores, very comprehensively, the feelings and opinions… Source: rliberni.wordpress.com […]

    Pingback by Is there a Place for Smartphones as Mobile Learning Devices in Schools? | Smart Phones and Language Learning | Scoop.it — November 17, 2011 @ 9:16 am | Reply

  16. […] been a while since I wrote an #edchat review and I was happy to volunteer to summarize this week’s #ELTChat. I blogged about the topic […]

    Pingback by #ELTchat » How do you revisit taught material and recycle effectively? #ELTchat summary 02/03/2011 — September 2, 2012 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

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