I received a survey in my school email inbox today. The administration is considering changing the school cell phone policy and they want faculty input. The leadership recognizes that times are changing, and they are not alone.
I carried out an anonymous survey in my five science classes last year to determine what percentage of my students (60 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch) possess a cell phone on contract. Answer: 100%. This is consistent with a recent Pew Research survey that found 95% of millenials (18-34) owned cell phones.
Few teachers are yet harnessing the educational power of their wired students, and for good reason. Cyberbullying laws in all 50 states put the onus of protecting students on the LEA’s (Local Education Agencies). This means that schools are expected to punish cyberbullies, but it also means that families can sue schools for not effectively protecting their children from harassment. In an overly litigious society, the institution responds with constraints. Most schools do not allow cell phone use during school hours at all.
Both students and their parents are pushing back on cell phone bans. It has become the expectation that families stay in touch throughout the day. To meet this demand, schools need to do what they do best – educate.
Though not tested with scantrons at the end of the year, learning the tenets of digital citizenship is as valuable as gaining the ability to type, use proper manners, and manage your own finances. Communities would have an easier time incorporating cell phones into the school day in a pro-educational fashion if they explicitly taught digital citizenship with resources like the nine elements of digital citizenship and the kids pledge to responsibly use technology from digitalcitizenship.org.
Educating students about proper digital citizenship might enable schools to safely allow cell phone use between classes, but the classroom is another issue altogether. Not all students have smart phones yet. This is the second hurdle in the race to usher in acceptance of BYOT in the public school classroom. Teachers dare not engage in any activity that only those with smart phones can do. Sharing school-provided devices is acceptable. Asking students to share their own expensive devices, not so much. This will soon change. It wont be long before most of that 100% of cell phone owning students has smart phones.
A few teachers have begun to shine light through the tunnel of prohibition with positive results. A well-managed, web-enabled classroom has limitless learning possibilities. The size of the smart phone, smaller than the laptop or tablet, places the device in a sweet spot. Students might be less likely to get caught in associative web-surfing when they should be doing group work than if they had a laptop or tablet screen facing them. Yet, the small interface allows simple tweet-sized responses that can provide a teacher with real-time, anonymous, formative-assessment. New tools are also opening up the possibility of a safe classroom backchannel. And recent developments with NFC could very well blow the lid off the classroom.
I filled out the two question survey for my admin team:
Do you think students should be allowed to use cell phones at school?
Do you have any suggestions?