Cellflix Film Festival

As many of you know, the idea of using mobile phones in the classroom (for actual learning purposes) intrigues me. For years I was the typical "don't bring your phone into this classroom" kind of teacher. I eventually came to realize that nearly every one of my students had both a phone and an iPod (you'll see that mobile phone access numbers for Brighton High School hover around 90%).

With this kind of access, why fight it any longer?

I have since been on a quest to identify educational activities that could be done with these technologies that students insist upon carrying into the classroom - in spite of authoritarian attempts to limit such practices (Wesley Fryer did a great post about this a few weeks ago).

The other day, I came across one of the most inviting activities for in-class mobile phone use yet: The Cellflix Film Festival. The rules are basic: Students (high school aged and higher) are to use their phones to record a 30-second film. Video can be edited using a computer with soundtrack and title effects being added to the footage. However, remember that all video must be shot using the camera in your phone. From the Cellflix archives:

You must shoot the story on your cellphone, but you can edit it any way you choose. Produce the best 30-seconds of small-screen cinema, and walk away with the $5,000 Texas Instrument's Audience Award or the $5,000 grand prize -- and the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping to make the world a smaller and more beautiful place.
The festival just completed its second season, with some extremely creative entries. Last year's entries were equally good. The video below took first place in last year's competition (watch it twice to catch the humor).

I personally think that this kind of activity holds tremendous promise for classrooms of all types - especially since so many phones now come with cameras built-in. A quick scan of the phones offered by two major carriers in my area (Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile) revealed that 70% of the phones now sold (51/73) include built-in cameras.

Imagine giving your class this kind of assignment (your class may or may not have its own 'Jimmy'):
Class, today we'll be creating mobile phone video reports. The assignment, due at the end of class, is to create a 30-second video clip explaining the definition of a vocabulary term that I will assign you shortly. Because not every phone has a built-in camera, I want you to work in groups of 3 or 4. No, Jimmy, you may not have 5 in your group. Your definitions should not be read directly from the textbook, but should be presented in your own words. No Jimmy, you may not swear in the video. Videos are to be G-rated.
Videos could then be turned in via email, or (even better) shared in small groups during class. It's not difficult to imagine how excited the students would be to share what they have created with each other. Off the top of my head, I can envision this type of activity working well in a variety of classes:
  • English - Mobile phone video book reports, poetry readings, story-telling
  • Math - Mobile phone video reports on vocabulary, section reviews, and section introductions
  • Social Studies - Mobile phone video reports on nearly any unit (history, current events, economics)
  • Foreign Language - Mobile phone video reports on culture, vocabulary, grammar - all in the language, of course
Now the inclusion of this technology in one's teaching would also result in several things:
  • At first, students would need guidance - control, if you will - to ensure that they stay on-task and focussed. I would recommend setting aside a specific time period for allowed mobile phone use (possibly ringing a bell when phones are to be put away). As a teacher, you will have to manage phone use closely or it will probably spiral out of control.
  • It will also need to be stressed, up front, that any and all activity that students do on their phones is voluntary - in other words, students may use their phones in class, but they aren't required (I'm thinking about students racking up huge bills here, and then claiming that "it was required for school"). A parent permission slip ahead of time may be a good idea. In my opinion, most kids will actually want to use their own phones, but you'll want to cover your bases ahead of time.
  • I can't imagine students not becoming excited about and engage in learning from an assignment of this nature (most have never been asked to actually use their phones in class). Therefore, make the assignment's content count.
Well, that's probably enough for now - just a few thoughts to get started. What's your take? Do you have any experience with this type of assignment?

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