How can we teach smartphone skills in class?

The traditional response to cell phones in school is “hand that over.” That doesn’t work for me. A student is never going to learn to manage the phone on her own if I’m constantly providing an external structure for her. She needs to internally figure out a way to manage having a phone and not using it. That aspect of having a phone in class makes sense to me, and I know how to work with it.

More importantly, I don’t want students to get the message that phones and learning can’t coexist. Smartphones are business tools and education aids. I don’t use a smartphone for work, but I think that makes me among the minority.  I do use my smartphone for pretty much everything else – getting around, managing my money, and keeping track of my responsibilities and calendar, just to name a few.

I support students to use email and online apps to do their schoolwork because I think those skills are essential to post-secondary education and employment. Lately, though, it seems that successfully navigating a smartphone is an essential skill as well. I want to help my students with that as well: how do you find out how much data an app is using? How do you tell if an app is probably carrying malware? How do you dig into the files on your Android? What’s the best way to sync your Google calendar to your iPhone?  What happens if you click “factory reset?”

Small problem, though.  You see, any student who walks into my classroom has access to the internet, because my computer is sitting on my desk with the blue LED-lit fan whirring away. Smartphones, though? A little more complicated. Any school has a mix of students from varying socioeconomic situations. Let’s say a student does have a smartphone – they still can’t get on our school WiFi, because that’s password protected, and I’m not about to start handing that password out to students (while I may want students to be learning tech skills in my class, I don’t want to make it any easier for them to be on Twitter in someone else’s). I wouldn’t ask a student to use their 3G or 4G, because that’s not my dime and I don’t have information on their provider’s plans and costs. And while I’m happy to have students use my computer, I’d never let a student use my phone, nor would I want to use theirs. I’ll always err on the side of respecting someone’s boundaries and privacy.

So that leaves me with this question: how can I teach students the skills they need to master their cell phones?  iPod Touches or non-cellular Android devices would be great, but it’s unlikely my school will ever budget those in. I’d love to find a way to work with what I already have at my disposal. But how?

Updates to come if I have a flash of brilliance.

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