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Student teachers pioneer use of 'smartphones' in elementary schools

November 5, 2007

Twelve student teachers at Wake Forest University are pioneering the use of "smartphones,” pocket-sized devices that combine the features of a computer with the functions of a cell phone, in elementary school classrooms this fall.  

The first of its kind in the country, the program puts the devices in the hands of student teachers to find out how they can be used to track the performance of students and improve the quality of teaching.

The mobile computing devices, nicknamed Mobis, provide an unobtrusive way to evaluate students during a lesson and find out which students may need some additional help, said Kristin Bennett, assistant professor of education at Wake Forest who is coordinating the program.

It is the same sort of information a teacher might gather on paper, but collecting it with the handheld device allows a teacher to easily record real-time observations and eliminate the need to later input the data into a computer. 

 “I have used my handheld in the classroom to write notes on reading levels during self-selected silent reading as I circulate around the classroom and whisper-conference with each child,” said Liz Nurmi, who is student teaching in a first-grade classroom at Clemmons Elementary.

"With the growing emphasis on formative assessment and data-driven instruction, we saw this device as an efficient, non-cumbersome data collection instrument,” Bennett said.  “We are hoping the Mobis will allow the student teachers to analyze their instruction and student performance on a regular and timely basis.”

Constant wireless Internet access for instructional purposes, e-mail access that allows communication with parents during the day, and access to an online shared calendar are features the student teachers also find helpful, Bennett said.

The student teachers can also use the devices to take photos of student work, make audio recordings of students reading and make video clips of class presentations.  One student teacher has taken pictures of students in class and sent them directly to her e-mail account to include in her regular newsletter to parents. 

For on-the-spot assessment of students, the student teachers use a software program developed by Wake Forest’s Information Systems department called DataInHandâ„¢ that allows them to make notes while they are moving around the classroom.   One student teacher, Katelyn Hughson, is using the software to track how third-graders are doing in science.   She has also evaluated her students’ learning styles and has that information stored in her Mobi so she can access the data and adjust instruction for different students in her classroom.

Some of the student teachers also use the Excel computer program on the handhelds to organize data and streamline various administrative tasks such as attendance and recording grades. 

"I think the biggest benefit of having this technology in the classroom is the organization and efficiency of having your assessments and notes all right there,” Nurmi said. 

In 2006, Bennett and Ann Cunningham, associate professor of education at Wake Forest, conducted a pilot study to test the usefulness of the devices.  Using what they learned, they applied for a grant to equip all of this fall’s student teachers with

them.  In addition to the device, which is powered by Windows Mobile, the grant covers the cost of student teachers’ voice and data plans.

The student teachers are placed in four Winston-Salem/Forsyth County elementary schools:  Meadowlark, Clemmons, Vienna and Gibson.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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