Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cell Phones, Part 3

We've looked at an overview of the cell phone issue and how you can use them in the classroom, so I'll finally weigh in on this: Schools need to adjust (read: relax) cell phone policies, much like they need to do with filtering, to recognize the reality of present day technology and that schools have a duty to teach responsible use.

If for nothing else, taking a constructive view of cell phone use in schools sends the following messages:
  • We acknowledge we are living in the 21st century, where people can connect and gather information outside of the instruction that we deliver
  • We want to work with our students and parents, not against them
  • We want to adjust our methods and curriculum to the lives and learning habits of our students, not vice versa
  • We believe that students can learn correct usage and responsible behavior, and that we don't need to resort to barring access.

And, a point that cannot be overstated, when you create a policy that is stringent, you have to have the means to enforce it. Which, in this cell phone-ubiquitous age, is impossible. Jon Tanner has a good discussion of those items on his blog.

These messages are great in print, but will get tested the first time a student in texting in class instead of listening to your teacher, and that will happen early and often. Staff truly have to believe in the above statements. (Which, ironically happens when staff are asked to turn in their cell phones before the beginning of a day long inservice).

When it comes to using cell phones for instruction, however, we are just starting to see the pros and cons. I'll admit my shortcomings, I've only seen the use from an outside perspective, not as an integrating teacher. And, this list will change over time. Regardless, here are my thoughts:

  • Cell phones are the future, and we can be ahead of the curve on this one
  • Using them in instruction has always resulted in more engagement, from what I have observed
  • The methods for teaching with them are very promising and mirror work in the Iowa Core.

CONS (consider these "caveats"):
  • Yes, this will change, but as for now, cell phones are severely limited for input ability. Yes, you can type a paper on them, but that doesn't mean you should. This includes the iPhone, which is amazing, but not as powerful as a laptop.
  • While often easily dismissed, there are students who don't have them, and there are real consequences to this. And, it isn't with SES this time. But it can be very embarrassing for children who have parents who philosophically will not allow their children to have phones. Suddenly, the fact you don't have a phone is out in the open, and you have to borrow someone else's. Know your student body's emotional psyche very well before going down this road.
  • From what I have observed, there is a definite danger of "being about the tool instead of the teaching". Or as I fall back on, your "toolishness is foolishness". In good integration, the technology is invisible... students don't even think about themselves using it. I've never seen a cell phone unit where this has been the case. Students always leave the room saying "Hey, we got to use cell phones in class today!"

The truth with that last point is interesting for me, because while that is the main reason I'm skeptical of their use in class today, the reality is, if they are used frequently enough, they do become invisible. A steady, sound integration of cell phones can be very successful, and therefore, worth pursuing.

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