"Sneaky Messages," by Tommy Huynh (on flickr)
As one of our building’s tech nerds, I get the privilege of trying out some new ideas that utilize technology in the classroom. Right now, I’m working on a pretty significant experiment in my classes: using cell phones, specifically texting, as a sort of formative assessment.
This is a particularly big deal for me, because I’m not a big fan of cell phones. I find them to be a big distraction, both for my students and myself. The privacy and anonymity is also kind of worrisome, as we see time and time again with the “sexting” issue that has been making headlines. Because of this, I’m pretty crack-down on cell phones – I have a wooden coffin and play the funeral march when I confiscate one, just to make a theatrical point.
At its core, the cell phone experiment hinges on getting instantaneous feedback from students. In my first experiment, I used it to get two types of feedback from 3 of my 5 9th grade English classes. First, I asked students to text their group discussion questions to this board on Poll Everywhere, and those questions appeared on the overhead. We worked our way through the discussion questions and, eventually, I asked them to participate in this poll using their cell phones, again using Poll Everywhere.
In short, the first round of the experiment was inconclusive. I experienced all of the problems a teacher would expect – students misusing their phones and texting other people, inappropriate comments being texted to the discussion questions board, and even one student taking my picture (which I am told appeared on his MySpace that evening). All these issues, which most teachers would use as reasons to avoid the cell phone entirely, bother me as well. I seriously considered stopping there.
Instead, however, I am planning on trying again, this time in all of my classes. While there were very obvious and frustrating problems, there were also some big positives: normally disengaged students coming up with discussion questions, groups working intently together to come up with questions, and a generally positive vibe during the actual discussion. So while there were certainly negatives, there were definitely positives to balance those out, as well.
As I try this next experiment, I want to do a comparison between the two groups: a group that has done it before, and a group to whom this is a novel idea. I am hoping to see if the students who have done it before have gotten the novelty out of their system and can actually buckle down and use the tool properly. I am hoping that they were just so intrigued that they had to “experiment” themselves, but aren’t mature enough to do that in a constructive way. I am hoping that the students will begin to recognize their phones as potentially educational tools. I am sure it will be an interesting comparison between the veterans and the n00bs.
This second round will ask the students to vote for which character(s) should be punished at the end of Romeo & Juliet, and I’m going to try two different types of response displays: a multiple choice poll and a text response. I plan on using the results of this poll to have another short discussion.
Eventually, I will experiment for a third time, hopefully with a completely different idea (rather than just collecting answers/responses). The problem is I am not sure what else to do. If you have any suggestions, I would love to try them out. If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of this stuff, whether you love cell phones or hate them.