Using Cell Phones for Good, Not Evil

As receptive as I am to practical applications of tech in the classroom, I’ve never been big on mobile phones in school. Not that I’m inherently against their use; I just haven’t seen much that’s convinced me there’s that great a need for them in the classroom. A few tools I’ve come across in the last month or so have convinced me, however, that phones can come in very handy as far as helping students get organized (a skill that we teachers often require but rarely teach).

Organizational support is especially important for our students with learning disabilities, many of whom also exhibit symptoms of ADHD (there’s anywhere from a 15-80% comorbidity rate of LD & ADHD, depending on who you ask). Many of these students are so lacking in organizational strategies that the help of an aide or special ed teacher is explicitly written into their IEPs. I’m wondering if offering them an organizational tool in the form of a familiar, comfortable technology might empower them to take more ownership of this aspect of their learning.

Our kids use cell phones every day to communicate with friends and family. Can we teach them to harness the power of voice and text communication for organizational purposes? Here are three FREE services I use to help me remember important tasks:

Jott (public beta)

This service allows you to call a (US) toll-free number (probably irrelevant in this age of standard US nationwide calling plans; there’s a local 647 number for Canuckistani Jotters) and dictate text to be sent to any email address in your Jott addressbook. You can also use Jott’s contact manager to create groups of recipients (e.g., Family, Soccer Team, Period 1 Students).

Set up an account at You’ll be asked for an email address and a phone number to associate with your account. When you call Jott, you’ll be asked, “Who do you want to Jott?” Say the name of any contact or group in your account (Say “Me” or “Myself” to Jott yourself). After the beep, leave a quick message (“Vocabulary homework; read Chapters 3 and 4”). Your message will be transcribed by either voice-recognition software or a human transcriptionist and sent to the contact’s email address.

For bonus tech geekery, do what I do and have a Gmail filter/label combo set up for Jotts (click thru for a cleaner pic):


Wakerupper (private beta)

Wakerupper is marketed as a free wake-up call service. Use the drop-down time menu and calendar to schedule calls; Wakerupper’s text-to-voice software can even play a recording of a short typed message.


This is a much more “bare bones” approach to reminders than Jott, and could be valuable for students who don’t spend much time on email, but can access the site to schedule some reminder calls. I’ve never scheduled a reminder call for more than a day in advance, but the calendar doesn’t seem to have a defined time limit. Wakerupper’s site says you can schedule reminder calls via phone, too, but as yet, I haven’t been able to locate that number. (Edit: Wakerupper customer support sez the schedule-by-phone option has been removed until it can be further refined)

Wakerupper is still in private beta testing, and you must email them at to request an account. This isn’t like some other beta sites, though – I got my account within minutes of requesting it.


Similar to Wakerupper, TextMemos allows you to advance-schedule text messages for most major mobile carriers. The only catch here is that if you’re not in the US, you must know the recipient’s mobile carrier (not a problem if you’re texting yourself). Type in your text message, set the date and time, choose the carrier, and away you go.


So which one is best? As always, depends on the needs of the user. I love Jott, but I have easy access to email through much of my day, and it’s my “command center”. Students who have limited computer (but ubiquitous mobile) access would probably be better served by Wakerupper or TextMemos, and even then it’s a question of personal preference of text or voice.

Privacy concerns here are valid. All three services have stringent privacy policies, but I still probably wouldn’t use any of these services to convey sensitive information (if they want to tell the world that I ran out of milk this morning, they’re welcome to).

My students are glued to their mobile phones (overheard in homeroom one day: “You can’t just… NOT text. That’s ridiculous.”), so I think it makes sense to put them to some good use. I doubt I’ll be requiring them to txt in their homework anytime soon, but I wonder if using these tools for automated reminders would help them in any way.

All services are available in the US and Canadia (English only); TextMemos is currently the only one that can be used outside these countries.

EDIT: I think it’s important to note that I have no vested business interest in or connections to any of these companies, other than as a very satisfied consumer of their respective products. Just in case the Edublogger’s Ethics Committee comes knocking…


  • Great write-up, not the least of which ’cause I hadn’t heard about TextMemo yet.

    I sorta suspect, though, that all this talk of educational cell phone use will seem a little forced until everyone’s got mobile web browsing. That’s when this sucker takes off.

  • Thanks Damien

    I have added this to the wiki at

  • @Dan That’s why I haven’t quite jumped on the “ed-cell” bandwagon (and frankly, I’m even a little skeptical about mobile web browsing, but probably only because I haven’t done it yet). I am curious to hear your thoughts on this, though:
    Could it be useful to middle or high school math students?

    @Russel Thanks for the add! The CellPhonesInLearning wiki is certainly thought-provoking, and I’ll be spending some time poking around your wiki later today.

    Thanks, fellas, for your thoughts.

  • I’d really like to listen to the podcasts. If you get them online for public listening let me know. I’m in a K-8 school, so I’d probably use the cell phones with the middle school students. My biggest worry is eating up their minutes. I’m going to reflect a lot before using the phones in class, but the conference session was really a shift in thought for me.

  • @njtechteacher Thanks for stopping by. We’re still in the process of recording (plus we have midterms and NJEA break this week), so they probably won’t get online til closer to Thanksgiving. When they do, they’ll be here:

    somewhere under “The Crucible” in the left-hand menu.

    I don’t think minutes figures into the equation when it comes to playing music (songs are stored either on the device or a memory card), but the txt fees are worth another look. My students and I are Twittering, too (well, trying, at any rate), and I’ve told them not to use the Twitter from phone option unless they have some kind of unlimited txt plan – I don’t want to get phone calls from angry parents with $300 txt bills each month.

  • Jott to self: Standard Text Messaging Rates Apply.

    Spend little children, spend, and you shall learn about consumerism, commerce, and if you’re lucky, free shipping on orders over $100.

    Sorry for the wallet-mongering.

    I just tend to walk a pecuniary tight-rope around some impecunious students.

    And how about href= “” > Wiffiti ? Honestly, if you can find any redeeming value, let me know.

  • darn HTML…back to school for me. sorry.

  • @Ken Yes, the fees are an issue, but at 0.05-0.15/text, how many texts can you send for the price of a $3-5 assignment book? What about if you’re on an unlimited txt plan already for “fun” communication?

    (Ah, sez you, but what about a .99 notebook and a cheap pen? Yes, sez I, but what good are they if kids don’t use them?)

    Not saying one’s better than the other; just that there are always costs (see my comment above re:Twittering by txt). Just trying to explore options here. Honestly, in the environment in which I teach, it’s not even a worry for 99% of the kids, so I’m trying to use what I’ve got. YMMV, of course.

    re: Wiffiti – You mean to tell me there are unproductive websites? On the INTERNET?! Alert Horace Greeley!

  • I’m all for unproductive websites. I guess what irks me is when I see “educational leaders” promoting these sites.

    Odds are, these teachers are just people too, and when they find something interesting, they want to share it with the world. At the very least, writing about the innocuous makes for easy, quick blog posts.

    Sometimes I take some people too seriously.

    I’ll post the aforementioned sentence to the wifitti board at Brownies, 23 East, Ardmore, PA…happy hour, M-F, 5-7pm…blah blah, glug, glug.

  • @Ken I’m just pulling your leg, man. I’ll say the same thing here I said on Dan’s site a while back: I don’t get the impression that anyone is touting Wiffiti (or Twitter, or UStream, or etc.) as the future of education – I think it’s just early adopter-types getting excited about a new toy and throwing it out to their built-in audience to see if anyone comes up with any good ideas. If so, great; if not, no harm, no foul.

    I could be wrong, of course.

    PS What the hell is Wiffiti? Now I have to go check it out.

  • Wiffiti will be on my next Instructify post. It’s nice as a response system, and a heck of lot cheaper than buying a room full of clickers if you are a grade level where all your students have cell phones.

  • […] I said when I wrote about this a few years ago, privacy concerns are an issue.  Sensitive information probably should not be sent through these […]

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