New project allows cell phones in classroom

Dan Richardson

For once, a syllabus is going to tell students to turn on their cell phones.

Thomas McNeal and Mark van ’t Hooft of the Research Center for Educational Technology, are working to bring the use of the Quick Response code to the classroom with their Geo-Historian Project. The program was created to investigate using cell phones as a tool to enhance the educational value of historic sites with on-demand multimedia.

“They’ve got the phones, and they are practically a computer already. Let them use it,” McNeal said.

With the Geo-Historian Project, McNeal and van ’t Hooft have found an inexpensive method to put this technology to use.

“It gives kids a chance to be active in their own learning,” McNeal said. “They’re not just sitting back watching something or watching somebody tell it to them. They are doing their own research and making it themselves.”

The process involves uploading student-created images, videos and sound clips to a host Web site. Students then paste the URL from the hosted data into the QR creating site. The result is a two-dimensional, black and white mosaic that will instantly access the hosted multimedia every time a smart phone’s camera scans the code.

Although the project has yet to hit the classroom, McNeal and van ’t Hooft have tested its application at the World War II Monument in Washington D.C. with high reviews. The success of the trial run left evidence that the program seems limitless.

“You walk the Kent State memorial and there are all kinds of written supplemental information provided,” McNeal said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a barcode that you could scan and watch a one-minute video clip with it?”

The idea came from the realization of the world we live in today. Throughout the nation, cell phones have grown in popularity to the point where a fifth grader having an iPhone is no longer unfathomable, McNeal said. Instead of banning a cell phone from the classroom, teachers should be embracing them and finding ways to involve them within the curriculum, he added.

McNeal said the Geo-Historian Project is essentially free, except for the cost of the smart phone.

Through Web sites like, anyone is able to create QR codes and download the scanner and reader application. With the help of free Web sites to host the multimedia and students filming their own media, the plan can be relatively expense free.

Although the project shows great promise, there are limitations that complicate its expansion. For example, the requirement of a smart phone limits the population who can currently use it, but McNeal said the popularity of the smart phone makes this less of an issue with time. Another complicating factor is that the same company must make the QR code and the reader.

“If the program gets large enough, someone would have to make the codes universal,” McNeal said. “Right now it’s like having a Verizon phone, therefore you can only call other Verizon phones.”

“I think it could enhance the popularity of museums and places with historical value, while also broadening the understanding of travel sites,” said sophomore psychology major Steve Burton. Burton, the owner of an AT&T Quickfire phone, said he can see some of the complications that lie ahead.

“Not everyone is going to have a smart phone; I know I don’t,” he said. “And in that case, there’s no such thing as a disposable (phone) to take with you when you travel.”

RCET plans to put the Geo-Historian Project into action this year, starting with three middle school classes in Northeast Ohio.

“Our plan is to first have it localized within a few communities, then state,” McNeal said. “Then from there, who knows?”

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Dan Richardson

at [email protected].