Should we ban cell phones in schools? This is a conversation I've had many times over my 9 years of teaching and often relates to the entire BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) discussion - which I'm very passionate about. I'll be quite honest, out of all the debate topics so far, this was definitely the one that I had the strongest feeling and connection to - so it was going to be quite hard to change my mind regarding the use of cell phones in school. However, before I get into my personal feelings on the matter, let's recap the awesome debate between Jill and Tarina & Alyssa and Skyler.
The debate started out with an awesome video created by Jill and Tarina, which did an excellent job of not only engaging their audience but presented some interesting arguments as to why cellphones should be banned in school. I was blown away at the creativity displayed in their video, as they utilized a combination of real-life stories, pop culture clips as well as facts to present their argument. This use of media was just plain awesome, and I really wish Trevor and I had thought to include it in our own debate video - well done! I also commend them for selecting the agree side to this topic, as I feel that it is a difficult side to defend, but nonetheless had some interesting points to think about.
A few thoughts I had from the opening argument:
1) Cellphones are a distraction in school.
This was a great point, and as someone who is very "pro-cellphone", I have to admit, it can definitely be a problem in classrooms. As was pointed out in the study from the news clip, 268 distractions occurred in a classroom over the span of a half-hour. This is an alarming number, and while I don't think it would be as high in a Grade 7/8 classroom, I'm sure the number of notifications would still be shocking if I were to complete the same experiment in my school. This is a reality of kids today being connected to their devices as well as one another. Part of me wonders if it all students were to turn off notifications, would this still be as big of a problem? Jill and Tarina also pointed out that while cellphone use could distract the user, it also has the potential to distract others as well. This was supported by the 2018 statistic that essentially found that students who had devices at school tested lower on exams, and so did fellow students in the class. However, I would like to read the full extent of this study as I'm curious how they could prove that the cellphone use was the result of the low scores, as there could be so many factors at play there.
2) School devices are safer.
When exploring this point, the main idea was that schools would do their due diligence to keep the students safe if they were forced to use school devices. This would occur because the school could monitor the use of the device, as well as internet activity. While I certainly agree that it is easier to police the use of school technology, especially using programs like LanSchool or VNS as opposed to personal devices. However, in many divisions, the internet filters are actually the same regardless of which device is being used. While this may not be the case everywhere, I know that in RCSD, students who would like to access the internet on a personal device need to sign-in to a special "student WIFI", that requires them to sign in using their school credentials. When accessing this WIFI, the division is not only is able to filter and block inappropriate content but can also have access to the internet activity for each student. In addition to this, our students are also required to sign the "Responsible Use Agreement" at the start of each year for both school devices as well as BYOT. Having students sign this agreement, puts greater responsibility on the students, and allows for appropriate consequences if students are using the devices inappropriately. So with this point, while I'm sure it would apply in many places around the world, I don't feel that it would apply in my own division due to the policies and planning that are already in place.
3) Cellphones increase negative behaviour.
With this point, I would certainly agree that cellphones provide a means for students to act negatively, but I really struggle with the notion that they are the cause of increased negative behaviour. When we think about many of the complaints and issues with cellphone use among teenagers, cheating, cyberbullying and sexting would certainly be at the top of the list. I absolutely agree that these are problems in our society today, and definitely find ways to manifest in a classroom setting. However, I do think it's hard to prove that cellphones have increased these behaviours, as cheating and bullying have always been an issue in schools; cellphones just happen to be the newest means that kids are utilizing for them. Sexting is also a problem, but I do remember this also being an issue with kids on messaging programs such as MSN Messenger in the early 2000s. So again, the argument could be made that this was already a problem, and cellphones just are the newest manifestation of it. As I'm sure I will mention again in the future, this problem really emphasizes the need for increased education and digital citizenship by parents and teachers alike. While these problems will never be eradicated completely, I believe we can certainly diminish the amount of these issues through the use of education, rather than banning.
Just as was the case with the first video, I was also quite impressed with how Alyssa and Skyler mashed existing news clips with stock footage to help make their video so engaging. Well done!
Here a few of points they made that stood out to me:
1) Medical & emergency use.
To be quite honest, the notion of using cellphones for medical use wasn't something that would have immediately come to mind, but after thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. If a student has diabetes, we now have the technology to utilize apps to sync with a body sensor to determine blood glucose levels. This is something that has become more popular, and a quick google search would show that there has been a big push for the development of more apps that can help with diabetes and other medical conditions. In addition, while I may not fully agree with parents or students contacting each other during the curricular time (I believe these issues should go through the office first), I definitely see the benefit of allowing these devices in the student's hands. As Michala pointed out, oftentimes students are walking home after school or after extra-curricular events, and if an emergency were to take place, having a way to contact emergency services or even their parents would be incredibly important. While I don't have kids of my own, I can definitely see the peace of mind it would give parents (and probably their kids too), if they were to have a cellphone in these situations.
2) Cellphones can alleviate the pressure of tech use in schools.
In my experience, this was the number one benefit of BYOT and cellphone use in schools. I distinctly remember in my first year of teaching we had one single laptop cart that was being shared by the entire middle years' block. This meant it was almost impossible to get your hands on these devices as they were the hot commodity in our end, and always seemed to be booked out. However, the following year our division adopted a BYOT policy, which completely changed everything. Now, instead of having to book the entire laptop cart, teachers only needed to book a certain number of computers for the students in their classes who did not bring a personal device to school. This enabled more teachers to access the laptop cart at the same time and thus allowing for more tech integration within classrooms. While cellphones couldn't be used for everything (word processing, powerpoints, etc.), they did drastically cut down on the number of devices teachers needed to borrow each day/week off the shared carts, which ultimately provided more use and access for all the students in the middle year's end of the school.
3) Cellphones can be utilized for many educational purposes.
Whenever I've had the "should we bad cellphone" discussion with my colleagues or fellow teachers, this is the point that I really try to hammer home - cellphones provide many educational opportunities to the students that may not have been possible (or practical) on a school device. In my experience, when I've provided students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in the way that works best for them, oftentimes they utilize their personal devices in ways that I didn't even know were possible. Whether it's various video editing apps, stop motion creators, music editing software, or even games like Minecraft, I've been blown away by the products they produce using the devices they are the most familiar with. I think this is also an important learning experience for the students - as Dean pointed out - if we teach our students that these devices can be used for more than just social media and personal use at home, we open their eyes to the full potential these devices hold.
Here's an example of a project that one of my students created this year when they were tasked with retelling the Creation Story. While many students could have simply created a PowerPoint, storybook, or poster, this student created the story on her Minecraf mobile app in class and used her laptop simultaneously for tutorials on how to create different structures. (Audio is a little hard to hear)
Ultimately, while both sides made compelling arguments, I still found myself positioned on the "Disagree" side of the debate surrounding the ban of cellphones in schools. While I fully acknowledge that certain issues may arise in regards to cellphone use in school, I firmly believe that education is the key to solving these problems. As educators, if we put the time in to teach our students digital citizenship and responsible use (and reinforce these concepts throughout the year), the magnitude of these issues should decrease. It's unrealistic to expect zero issues with cellphones, as ultimately these are kids we're dealing with and they are bound to make mistakes. By banning the devices, we lose out on the opportunity to educate the students and only make these devices taboo (which could result in them using them behind our backs anyway). At the end of the day, an analogy I like to use in regards to this situation is the use of paper in schools. If students use paper inappropriately (passing notes, writing nasty letters, drawing offensive pictures, etc.), do we ban paper throughout the entire school? Or do we take the time as educators to teach our students appropriate behaviour and procedures, while dealing with the students who make the mistakes on an individual level?
Just some food for thought...