As more and more teenagers own cell phones, a small number of schools are making the most of the devices’ popularity by finding legitimate educational and instructional uses for them.

Twenty-five schools in New Hampshire are encouraging their students who own web-enabled cell phones to use them to access homework, class assignments, and other content.

“It allows cell phones to be viewed more as educational tools than simply for recreational use,” said Nick Rago, director of HomeWorkNow.com, a homework-management web site that recently began allowing students to access its content via web-enabled cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Cell phones are one of most ubiquitous portable technology devices available to students. According to NetDay’s “Speak Up Day for Students 2003” survey, 70 percent of students in grades 6-12 and 61 percent of students in grades 3-6 said they use a cell phone either in school or during their free time.

Nearly two-thirds of the teachers at Exeter High School in New Hampshire post homework and class assignments for their students each day on HomeWorkNow.com, and with the site’s new accessibility, teachers now encourage students to check the site via their cell phones.

Like many schools, Exeter has adopted an “as long as I don’t see or hear it” policy regarding cell-phone use during school hours. Because of the no-cell-phone rule, Exeter students can’t access their homework assignments on their phones during the day–but after school, when they are at part-time jobs or riding the school bus, it’s not a problem.

“Students are pretty busy, and this allows them to retrieve their homework pretty quickly,” said Ellen Johnson, a Spanish teacher and advisor to the world languages department at Exeter High School.

Only two months into the school year, accessing HomeWorkNow.com seems to be popular among students. “Just from my personal account from my Spanish students, I’ve received more than 1,000 hits,” Johnson said.

Students at a high school in Ohio show their passion for their cell phones. Schools and vendors are tapping into this passion by offering access to schedules, homework assignments, and even practice SAT questions through the phones.(Associated Press photo)

Besides homework, Johnson posts project outlines and vocabulary flash cards. Parents can check project due dates, and students who have multiple teachers posting to HomeWorkNow.com can check for homework assignments for more than one class.

With more ways to access their assignments, students have fewer excuses when they don’t complete their homework. “Students would forget to copy it down, or students wouldn’t be listening at the end of class because they were thinking of lunch or getting home,” Johnson said.

The cell-phone version of HomeWorkNow.com offers fewer search capabilities than what’s available through a computer. “There are fewer features, and it’s more of a limitation of what the phones can do,” Rago said. “It’s the same content minus the interactive [stuff].”

HomeWorkNow.com, which costs $175 a year per school for up to 75 teachers, also lets teachers post links, images, and video.

“On the cell phone, everything is converted to text,” Rago said. “[It’s more of] a reference tool. Quickly, I want to see: Did I have homework today, and when is that test scheduled?”

Navigating to the HomeWorkNow.com site via cell phone is a bit of a challenge, Rago said: “Right now, it is a little tricky, if you’ve ever typed in a URL over a phone.”

Most cell-phone plans get around this difficulty by creating easy-to-navigate web links that are organized by categories.

But to the surprise of Andy Lutz, vice president of program development for The Princeton Review, no education category exists so far. “I was just stunned. When you go to the cell phone, there’s virtually no education content.”

The Princeton Review just launched an SAT prep tool that is delivered to students via their cell phones. “I don’t think anyone is going to sit and stare into their cell phone for three hours and read long passages or a book,” he said.

But cell phones are perfect devices for delivering “bite-size pieces” of information to students in their free time. “If you’ve got five minutes sitting in the back of a bus or car, instead of looking out the window, you can look at your phone and learn something,” Lutz said.

The Princeton Review’s new cell-phone application, which is only available to Verizon cell-phone users so far, lets college-bound students take timed mini-tests or drill for the math, grammar, and reading components of the SAT.

Students also can program their phones to deliver a certain number of questions at a certain time each day. Using this push technology, the phone will ring to let students know new questions have arrived. “That’s the most cutting-edge part of this,” Lutz said.

The cell-phone SAT prep tool is free to students enrolled in one of The Princeton Review’s programs. Students can also sign up for it separately for a $5.75 fee charged to their monthly Verizon phone bill. Schools and districts can contact The Princeton Review for more information about how to offer the cell-phone program to their students.

Links:

HomeWorkNow.com
http://www.homeworknow.com

Exeter High School
http://www.ehs.sau16.k12.nh.us

The Princeton Review
http://www.princetonreview.com