Conventional wisdom is that phones, especially smart phones, are a distraction at school. But innovative teachers can turn these devices into learning tools, according to Geoff Cain, director of distance education at College of the Redwoods in California.

"Mobile learning," or "mlearning," according to Cain, is any learning or instruction that takes place at a specific location but relies on a mobile device to access the information or event.

The possibilities for mlearning are endless, Cain says. The obvious application is to have students access lecture slides, course websites and teachers' suggested links. But the possibilities are endless, he says.

Students can use the cameras on their smartphones to collect data for science experiments, for example. Another possibility is to use the smart phone's capacity to read bar codes to create learning opportunities for students in museums.