One goal of a classroom is to ensure a proper learning environment for students. There are rules regulating behaviour, speech, electronics, and even clothing. Given mobile phones offer students the opportunity to violate many of those rules, shouldn’t they be banned? Won’t it be a confusing message for students that using mobiles is ok, but they can’t bring in an MP3 player?
This is probably the toughest of the myths to conquer, because it is partly true and somewhat subjective. Allowing phones can send a bad message, but it all depends on how the message is delivered. And of course how the rules regarding their usage are enforced.
In my daughter’s school, students were allowed to have phones, but not to use them during teaching times. They could use them during breaks or study times provided the sound was off or they used headphones. Should a student be caught violating the policy the mobile would be confiscated and the student could pick it up at the end of the day (with potentially other disciplinary action depending on circumstances). Her school had not incorporated mobile into their education programs at all, but had set a clear policy in recognition that virtually every student had a phone and brought it to school. The key is that the policy was clear and consistent. If one classroom allowed their use during lessons, then it would be confusing for everyone and potentially send the wrong message.
Other schools though, ban them entirely, which is also a clear policy but perhaps one that is in denial of reality. At least that is the feeling of at least one school governor. Shena Lewington offers guidance to governors, teachers and clerks on her website Clerk to Governors. On her blog she offered the following opinion on mobile phones in the classroom:
“I think that there is little point having a ban, and every point accepting that the world has moved on. Pupils need to “behave” which means not using their phone at the wrong time or in the wrong way, much like fiddling with their seventeen-function watch (remember the excitement of the first digital watches??) or brushing their hair in lessons or writing notes to each other with pencil and paper. We don’t ban brushes or pens or watches. Phones might be more seductive but it’s the same principle.”
It’s obviously just an opinion. One that potentially contradicts the Department of Education’s latest endeavour to examine the impact of electronics (and iPads in particular) in classrooms. I think there’s a general recognition that technology (mobile and SMS in particular) can be great tools for learning. But it is also true that how the devices are used and managed in an educational environment plays a large part in their benefit or lack thereof.
The solution may not be the same for all student levels either. A study at the University of Colorado Boulder showed 92% of university students used their smartphone during idle times while working or at school. More importantly, 82% used it for “school related-tasks”. By the time students reach university, mobile phones are both a distraction and a tool to be used for school. In fact, many universities use SMS to communicate with students because it is so commonplace and easily accessible to everyone.