Monday, February 23, 2009

Cell Phones, Part 1

Last week, the Quad City Times reported on Deb Berry's proposal to ban cell phones from all of Iowa's classrooms. Berry is a state representative from Waterloo, and is being driven to tackle what she feels is a critical issue:

Rep. Deb Berry, D-Waterloo, thinks teachers, administrators and parents are on her side. She understands it may inconvenience tech-dependent teens, but she looks at the ban as a safety issue.

Students are using cell phones to organize fights and pass test answers, for example, she said. Use “is out of control,” Berry said.

Besides, Berry, who is 50, said generations of Iowans have survived high school without cell phones.

When parents needed to contact their children, they called the office and left a message.

Berry’s bill would require school boards to establish policies prohibiting the use of cell phones during classroom hours.

The irony here is that this move seems very reactionary, especially given that more schools are rethinking their cell phone policies, seeing that they are fighting a losing battle, and looking at cell phones as somewhat analogous as calculators in education.


If you are in a secondary school, you understand the basic frustration. It's not that a classroom is a constant symphony of ring tones. It is rather texting and the need to "suddenly go to the bathroom" to have a 15-minute phone conversation that drive many educators crazy. And with many educators, the fear of using the phones to cheat on tests is reason enough to ban them from the classroom.

But on the flip side, cell phone policies are largely unenforceable. There are great discrepancies between teachers who confiscate left and right, those who don't have the where-with-all to notice when students are using them, those who don't care if students are using them, and those who have active classes where students don't have the time to use them. And even when they are taken, it doesn't seem to deter students.

And, many schools will mention involving the parents is a mixed bag as well. Some will be very supportive and take away their child's cell phone privileges, while others will argue that the cell phone is a necessary link to their child.


The reality is, cell phones use will only increase. In 2008, 17 million teens had a cell phone, which represented 79%. And in a 2006 techweb survey, 95% of parents would rather they remain in control of their child's use of a cell phone than the school. If Berry honestly feels parents are "on her side", she is sadly mistaken.

Plus, we are in the time of rapid technology development for cell phones, with the advent of 3G networks and the ability to push down huge amounts of data. The iPhone revolution is only in its infancy, and it is worth note that Apple's top developers are working on enhancing future generations of its mobile devices, the iPhone and iPod, instead of computers. Could it be that Steve Jobs feels the iPhone is the future of computing, with its ultra-portability and connectivity?

If so, it would behoove educators to be ahead of the curve with this new technology. Think about this: 71% of households have internet access, but 82% have cell phone access. And, unlike internet access, there is no correlation with SES.


The traditional thought is no, other than flat-out gadgetry. But traditional thought was soon proven antiquated for calculators. Consider this quote on paper and pencil from the 1815 Principal Association:

Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?

Which looks strikingly similar to that paragon of educational reform, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg:

We are not going to allow iPods and BlackBerrys and cellphones and things that are disruptive in the classroom. Classrooms are for learning. Teachers cannot be expected to look under every kid’s desk at what they’re doing.

The better response is "How?" This is where the work of people like Hall Davidson, Marc Prensky, and Liz Kolb (check out there websites to see the work they are doing with cell phones in the classroom).

I'll look at more specific uses of cell phones in the classroom in the next post.

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