Technology in School – Why Schools Shouldn’t Ban Cell Phones, but Rather Make Them Classroom Tools

Technology in School – Why Schools Shouldn’t Ban Cell Phones, but Rather Make Them Classroom Tools

by : Tiffany Tunnell
posted on : 7/30/2014 10:41:02 AM

Roughly twenty years ago, a wave of affordable, pocket-sized cellular phones were introduced in the market. These Nokia, AT&T, and Motorola cell phones were all the rage. Throughout the past two decades, cell phone usage has increased dramatically, and today more than 60% of Americans actually have a SmartPhone. Additionally, 29 percent of households have at least one tablet device and 75% of all school age children, between the ages of 12 and 17, have a cell phone. That number is further expected to rise over the coming years.

While the general population has been quick to accept cell phones as a medium of communication, public schools haven’t been so accommodating. In fact, during the 1990’s, many public school districts across the nation adopted policies prohibiting cell phone use at public schools. Cell phones were viewed as disruptive to the learning environment, and unnecessary for students to have in classrooms.

Over the past decade though, the number of children carrying cell phones to school has dramatically increased.  Parents cite the risk of terrorist activity, school threats, and even gun violence as reasons their child needs to have a cell phone to communicate with them in times of crisis.

Alas, schools began facing a new battle – an increased parental demand that children be allowed to access their phones.  While this led to some policy revisions, many schools began witnessing an increased usage of phones for non-emergency situations. Cell phone distractions began to rise, and administrative staff has since dedicated a lot of time battling with inappropriate cell phone use.

Needless to say, we all live in a society where SmartPhones have become all too common. Today, the vast majority of students have handheld, unlimited access to anything they can find online and the Zero Tolerance policies set in place almost two decades ago have been rendered obsolete.  Instead of continuing to battle over electronic devices and their usage, many school boards across the U.S. are now trying to update their policies to meet this new wireless era.

As a parent, you may be concerned that your school is changing their policies to allow cell phone usage during school hours. After all, you want your child to be focused on learning, not immersed in the glow of more screen time. However, this reaction could be misguided.  Keep in mind, in today’s society, our children are constantly surrounded by the use of technological devices.  Going forward, they will need to learn to use technology to support and further their learning.  For example, physical books and newspapers are quickly giving way to online books and online news. So instead of fighting technology by banning electronic devices, many schools across the country have been looking for positive ways to incorporate technology into the classroom environment.

Case in point – Dundalk High School in Baltimore, Maryland started with a simple change to their school’s policy. While students are still not allowed to use their cell phones in class, they are allowed to use them in the cafeteria and in the hallways. When students enter their classroom, they are given a reminder about appropriate cell phone use, and are told to silence their phones and put them away. So, although the school isn’t yet incorporating the technology into learning, it is providing children with guidelines or “etiquette” for appropriate phone usage and has seen a decline in disruptions related to electronic devices.

The National Education Association (NEA) recently published an article about Ken Halla, a veteran teacher who is embracing the use of technology in his classroom at a time when most teachers are still enforcing the cellular device ban. “Not every classroom can get a laptop every day, so [devices like SmartPhones], even if you have to pair them up, can become useful for teachers,” Mr. Halla stated.  He recommends teachers allow their students to use apps on their SmartPhones to provide additional tools to boost learning.

There are literally thousands of cellphone apps available now, most at no charge, for educational purposes. Some are as simple as timers or calculators, while others can be used for assignments, quizzes, and tests. The two primary apps Halla recommends for general classroom use are Remind101 (an app that sends texts to help students remember assignments) and (an app that allows teachers to ask students questions and students then can text their responses.  This allows teachers to collect immediate, valuable data on student engagement and lesson retention.

Lastly, the increase in the use of technology in classrooms is creating a new, more researched approach to teaching. In fact, many universities like Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin, as well as several other major universities across the country have begun pushing the next era in education.  They call it a “Flipped” or “Inverted” classroom.  According to the definition by the Center for Scholarly Technology at U.S.C., these classes offer a blended learning approach that “intentionally moves lectures, content, and asynchronous activities into an online learning environment.”

As an educator myself, I see this as a new shift to help make the technology the children are already familiar with into a useful learning tool.  Instead of having a teacher lecture to the class and then send homework home that is often difficult to work on independently, now students can watch the lectures, takes notes, and practice material on their tablets, SmartPhones, or computers. In turn, this allows teachers to spend less time lecturing and more time working on mastery of skills and engaging in problem solving activities.

If you are still not sold on the idea of integrating more technology into your child’s learning, think about the advances technology has made over the past couple of decades and where you think it is headed in the future.  Just ten years ago, cell phones were starting to scratch the surface of online capabilities of mobile devices, and today they are advanced information devices that can enhance learning when properly used. The goal for parents now is to embrace this new technologically savvy world and to create boundaries for its use by teaching children proper etiquette when using their devices, and especially by teaching them how technology can be used as a learning tool.

Here are 5 more reasons why schools and parents should incorporate technology into learning and into the

  1. Mobile technology increases collaboration! Students can collaborate on real-world projects with other students across the globe!
  2. Students can produce their own information and conclusions using videos, pictures and research. This will expand critical thinking application and problem solving.
  3. Online tools such as Google Docs and Evernote allow students to create word documents, spreadsheets, forms, presentations which are accessible on any mobile device. No more excuses from kids who say they forgot their projects and assignments at home!
  4. SmartPhones have so many features to help keep adults organized which can be applied to children as well. Using calendars, timers, alarms, and reminders can keep students organized with homework and project deadlines, sports and club activities.
  5. Budget cuts are limiting technology updates in classrooms, and therefore classroom technology is often outdated. By allowing students to use tablets and SmartPhones, there is an increase in current information throughout the school.

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