As even the devil might need an advocate from time to time, I thought I’d offer a few points in support of delaying the rounding up of the school’s cell phones and putting the kids who use them in camps where they might better concentrate. An unfortunate wordplay that evokes a similar (if heavy-handed) connotation of totalitarianism run amok as in the oft-cited observation, the only institutions who ban cellphones are the Taliban and highschools .
While they may present a different set of challenges for today’s educators, cell phones and mobile devices are a part of the world we live in, and should be a part of the education we provide today’s students.
Cell phones are distracting. They can isolate people, be used to bully, gossip, buy or sell drugs, commit other crimes, prorogue Parliament, call in bomb threats, cheat on tests, procrastinate, plan the next 9/11, etc etc etc. There are plenty of reasons for teachers to be leery of such technology coming through their doors, being used under their classroom desks, or being flipped open anytime one of their students is in “the bathroom.” As well, in training our students to enter the workforce we will do them many favours by instilling in them the ability to discern between times when it is appropriate to be engaged with personal technology, and when it is not. I certainly don’t want the fine people who pump my gas, serve my fries, and are otherwise working for (or with) me in the face-to-face capacity of many service sector jobs using a cellular or smart phone while they’re at work. If I ran a factory, hired manual labour, or even dealt in certain collaborative fields (business, creative arts, think tanks, etc), I might be so inclined as to institute a no-cell phone rule, as they would likely impede the nature of the work my colleagues or employees are engaged in.
But even then, there would likely be exceptions, and if I wanted to be a co-operative boss rather than a prison warden, I probably wouldn’t make my employees empty their pockets before they came in to start the day, and it will be a while before I do the same to my students – TALONS, guitar, or otherwise. But that may be me; I realize that I might be in the minority. But I would also be interested in establishing a school learning community that values face-to-face dialogue, debate, and experiential, first-hand learning for students and teachers alike. If we are to ask that our students are committed to the present moment of their current learning, why shouldn’t we expect the same of one another?
In fact, I suggest that if we’re philosophically against the ills that our mobile devices provide the educational landscape, I would await the outcry that would ensue if our administrators collected our phones, laptops, tablets, and other technologies that distract us every morning, things that get in the way of our more personal human interactions, and that make “cheating” (emailing resources, helpful material and maybe even email threads like this one to one another) all too easy. If the school is a no cell phone zone, it should be a no cell phone zone for all; otherwise, the logic of a school wide ban for Students Only doesn’t add up for me.
If the ban is only going to apply to students, the more moderate approach of a classroom-by-classroom basis, allowing each teacher their own classroom management strategy, is far-better suited to the central beliefs of a profession based in the diverse subjectivity of human experience. Personally, I can say that banning cell phones at our school would unequivocally make me, my students, and my classroom(s) less productive.
My cell phone is how I check my email, maintain a calendar, record student presentations, skits, and songs, take pictures and movies, as well as play music, videos, and podcasts. My phone is my primary connection to Google, Wikipedia, major newspapers and blogs, as well as a global network of educators, researchers and thinkers that share their wisdom, learning, resources, and classrooms with me and my classes in kind. I try to model optimal, yet responsible use of my personal technology, and I expect the same of my students. In turn their phones allow handheld access to more useful and current information than is in our textbooks (blasphemy!), communicate with one another, seek input from peers who may be elsewhere at the time (home sick, appointments, family vacations, on off-block, etc), consult expert authorities on subjects we study, and record speeches, songs, videos, podcasts, and material to study later (lectures, debate, conversation), in addition to viewing, reading, or listening to supplemental material from numerous sources to support what we are learning about in class.
By no stretch am I saying that this is how your classroom should look, feel, operate or anything else; how you teach your learning outcomes is your practice – this is mine (though granted, as a language arts and history teacher, the ability to communicate and decode text-based information is central to learning outcomes in both curricula and inherently involves more of the sorts of things PODs make possible). Ban cell phones, laptops, carrier pigeons, calculators, GPS, pens, smoke signals or anything else you think takes the focus away from your lessons. But my classroom would suffer if you would have your values imposed on it, just as yours would likely suffer if the reverse were true.
I am also, while I’m at it, not advocating for any sort of laissez-faire, anything goes policy toward my own or my students’ mobile devices in class. Q and I lectured and facilitated classroom discussions for more than two consecutive hours today, and only saw one cell phone the entire time. We don’t allow iPods, cell phones, watches or any digital technology other than cameras on our (single or multi-day) field trips. During these times when our priorities are to be engaged with one another and our environment, it is made clear that these devices serve no worthwhile purpose other than to detract from meaningful present experience. I think it is important to stress the value in “unplugging” to our students – and remember it ourselves – as a means of maintaining a sense of attention literacy in an increasingly busy information landscape.
But there are countless other times when cell phones are an invaluable, free resource in which our classrooms, offices and the rest of the developed world are suffused. When looked at as an opportunity, rather than a threat, modern mobile devices offer possibilities for student engagement, collaboration, and learning that are staggering.
Each of the classes we teach can reasonably expect to contain nearly a class-set of the following, at no cost to us, the school, district or Ministry of Education: video and still-cameras, mp3 recorders, internet browsers (that open, load and surf faster than many of our school computers), communicative networksthat involve 99% of our school community and well-beyond its walls, personal calendars, organizers, note-takers, tutors, tutorials, stopwatches, calculators, RSS readers, image and video-editors, as well as instantaneous communication (Facebook, Twitter, email) that is the hallmark of a burgeoning Information Age.
Being able to use these technologies may not be appreciated by service-oriented employers whose workers are paid by the hour, but they are already workplace essentials in many sectors, as it is seemingly impossible to find professions within an information-based economy where the leveraging of the internet, mobiles, laptops, and social networks is not a basic requirement.
To neglect this fact would be irresponsible if we believe our jobs hinge upon preparing tomorrow’s workforce.
Kids texting while a teacher is talking, or while the class is supposed to be working, is an issue of manners, or alternatively one of classroom management, and we are free to teach either of these in any number of ways that doesn’t involve our school making cell phones illegal (unless, like I say, we go full-bore – I’d be into that experiment).
Why would it work for cell phones?
I only offer my thoughts as respectful counterpoint to a wave of emails that seemed to slant toward a “Get rid of ’em!” approach that would impede the great learning I see these devices enable every day. It’s not a matter of better or worse; the way each of us teaches with respect to these devices is merely different.
A final realtime example: I posted on Twitter (from my phone) that I had received emails from multiple colleagues cheering for the banning of mobiles at our school, and asked my assembled network for links to resources discussing the advent of hand held technologies in the modern classroom. Within a few hours, I had several responses (including a few from current or former students at our school) that shared insights like recent grad Kassie Wasstrom’s (and were likely typed out by thumb on a phone’s keypad or touchscreen):
“We need to focus on the positives. I have a couple of profs that encourage us to bring iPods, iPhones, etc, because they help stimulate conversation.”
Errin Gergory, a teacher from school district 74 in Northern BC, sent me links to the following interviews with SD43 teacher Sonya Woloshen (supplied via Coquitlam teacher and principal (currently residing in China) Dave Truss‘ youtube channel):
- PODs (Personally Owned Devices) in the Classroom
- Expectations and Attitudes
- Wireless, Filters and Policies
I also received a link to this exhaustive debate of the pro’s and con’s for either banning outright or promoting responsible use of mobile devices from one of my current students, as well as a link to a TED Talk I blogged about last January, Stefana Broadbent’s Democratization of Intimacy:
At the end of that post, I think I manage to sum my thoughts up better than I have here:
“It is not a matter of banning cell phones, or even giving them a constant working purpose in our classrooms (such that they are not idle and hence a distraction, or even to meet students “on their turf”), but rather, a focus on raising learners – and to continue in Broadbent’s vain: citizens – that exist within the emerging fluidity of the 24/7 social media cycle, and yet are empowered by its capabilities to unite, and connect, rather than cowed by its vapid and addictive lesser qualities.”