Cellphones in class – embrace the dark side.

Last month I got into a discussion with an educator from one of my former high schools. The educator posted a news article from CTVnews about a school in Toronto that decided to ban cell phones from classrooms (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-school-bans-cellphones-from-classrooms-1.3295140). The school, after consulting with parents, decided to help students focus on their learning, cell phones would not be welcome in the classrooms. I had read the article prior to it being posted by this educator and thought, hey, why not engage in a bit of pedagogical dialogue. What resulted is some important self-reflection on my part (I cannot speak for anyone else) about the place that cell phones have in classrooms (if they even do).

If we consider the TPACK framework (that is, technology, pedagogy and content knowledge), cell phones ought not to be banned if incorporated into the class with purpose. Mishra and Koehler (2007) write about the intersection of technology, pedagogy and content knowledge and how when working together, the three components prove more beneficial than keeping them in isolation of each other (http://www.citejournal.org/volume-9/issue-1-09/general/what-is-technological-pedagogicalcontent-knowledge/). Thus, technology should not be used for the purpose of having technology, but rather to further the understanding of content and enhance one’s pedagogy in the classroom. This view works in conjunction with Puentedura’s (2009) presentation on the SAMR – substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition – approach to technology (http://hippasus.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/SAMR_APragmaticApproach.pdf). In neither case should simply be there and that is the crux of my issue with the cell phone ban in Toronto and my disagreements with a former educator of mine.

There are arguments for cell phones in class (and I make them briefly in my pictured Facebook feed) due to budgetary constraints and inaccessible nature of technology for some schools. And I believe those are worthwhile arguments, but they are beyond the scope of what I am discussing in this piece. I am looking at differences in pedagogy rather than equal access to tools in a classroom.

Plain and simple, if cell phones are welcomed in class, they need to serve a purpose. Much of the discussions outside of my feed on the post surrounded distractions for students and how it is impossible for someone to police 30 students at once. With all due respect to those individuals, don’t police them. By banning something (like cell phones), educators are explicitly taking away time from learning and creating a safe learning space and turning the room into a constant police state/space of surveillance. Certainly it sounds severe and overdramatic to call a classroom a police state, but if one is constantly making sure no one is on his or her cell phone, then one is constantly surveying the room.

Utilizing the SAMR approach, contemporary digital technology has the potential to redefine how classrooms operate. Look at note-taking as an example. While lectures are falling out of favour in inquiry-based classrooms, integrating technology into a lecture-style classroom can shift the centre of gravity. If students are given the opportunity to use technology to take notes, go one step further and bring students into a collective GoogleDoc and have them contribute their notes there. Cell phones are routinely blamed for eliminating conversation and social skills development, so fight back by placing students into groups and have them use only one main devise for note-taking. Suddenly, students are conversing with each other about the knowledge to include and are also able to converse with each other through the technology being used.

But what about cell phones? Clearly chromebooks or iPads are great, but cell phones are a root problem in classrooms for distractions etc. A second CTVnews article further clarified the initial article on the ban and explained that the ban was instituted after requests from some parents and careful consultation with teachers. It also explains that students would be welcome to use their cell phones during lunch, but social media, texting, and taking photos are all off-limits (http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/to-many-it-s-a-great-aid-in-the-classroom-wrdsb-on-toronto-school-s-cellphone-ban-1.3295351#). So this ban was crafted mainly from discussions with educators, so I’ll adopt an educator’s lens to argue against the ban.

If we look at the history curriculum here in Ontario, a significant portion of ‘learning’ is focused on the process of learning (the Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts; Strand A of any history/CWS course) and extending the learning to the learner as a person. If we continue with that thread and seek to meet the expectations in the curriculum documents, then cell phones are an integral part of learning.

With social media, people have the capability to bully others in their own homes (or on the go) without having to be near the person. People also have the capability to engage in discussions others from across the globe and demonstrate support for various causes, regardless of their virtues or vices. Finally, people have their cell phones available to them outside of school so banning them for six hours a day when the rest of their day provides unsupervised access is contradictory. If students are supposed to take their lessons from the classroom into their own lives and make those relevant connections, how does implementing a ban emphasize responsible decision making?

I can imagine people countering my arguments by saying that parents should teach proper cell phone use or that educators are supposed to focus on the content of the course and not helping students better manage their cell phone use. To both those claims I say there are practical counter arguments. To the educators placing responsibility at the parents’ feet (both in their jobs to restrict cell phone use and their guilt in encouraging cell phone use in schools by ‘helicoptering’ their children), I suggest you look at the very recent debate around the updated sexual education curriculum and simply substitute in cell phones. It’s the same debate. Further, we, as educators, are with students six to eight hours a day (sometimes we see them more than their parents do), so we are pseudo-educators and have many of the same responsibilities. And if we are not to help students overcome their cell phone addiction, how can we reasonable claim to be acting in the best interests of our students? Would we standby during drug addictions? Or how about physical self-harm? Or those who procrastinate? Those who do not have strong social skills? We are there to help our students be the best people they can be.

Returning to the points on pedagogy, cell phone use can be foundational to one’s education pedagogy. If students are to be encouraged to direct their own learning and educators are no longer the sages on the stage, why is it still ok for a blanket policy where we know it’s best for our students to not have cell phone access? Negotiating the classroom dynamics is important for establishing the desired safe-space classroom environment and encouraging student advocacy for what they feel is beneficial or harmful to them.

At the same time, I have been able to exemplify to my students mature ways of handling cell phone usage. When my students used their phones secretly, I called them out and invited them to use their phones, but encouraged discretion. When the class should have their attention on something, but individuals used their cell phones improperly (or had music in), I quietly motioned for them to refocus without drawing attention to the student. Nine times out of ten the cell phone would not be used improperly again that class. And most times when it was used, it was used quickly and then set aside. In my grade 7 classes I regularly saw cell phones out on desks and students hardly touching them. In my high school classes, I even used my cell phone periodically (if I got a text, I may see who messaged me) and then put it away, but if it was something that required greater attention my cell phone never appeared.

My final point on the matter is this: cell phones are here and they aren’t going anywhere. I stated above that educators should not spend their time policing cell phones, but rather integrate them either in lessons or as a valuable life-skill. Another CTVNews article (http://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/more-canadian-schools-move-to-incorporate-not-ban-cellphones-1.3301715) discusses more schools incorporating cell phones and the merits of it. The primary reason given is that when educators treat it as a non-issue, it becomes a non-issue.

I found it intriguing that almost all of the comments from the post were from ‘older’ individuals. I confidently label myself a digital native – a massive benefit from my age and the environment in which I grew up. I do not have problems with cell phones in the classroom and actively encourage their use by my students – it can 100% negate my need to ‘provide’ content information (if that’s all I was there to do, students could simply read their non-existent textbooks). As a human educator, my task is to help guide younger humans through adolescents and encourage positive skills development that will allow them to adapt to their future. Currently, cell phones are part of that future and thus they are part of my classroom.

 

 

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