George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

About three years ago, while I was teaching education at a local college, I was attempting to do an observation of one of my students at her student teaching assignment. It was my first time visiting that high school, so I found myself running late in traffic. I attempted to call my student on her cellphone to let her know that I might be a little late, but she never answered. I texted her, but she never responded. This forced me to try to make it on time.

As I entered the high school lobby I found a structure inside that resembled Dr. Who's Tardis with a SECURITY sign prominently displayed atop. I approached it and told the uniformed guard why I was there, and that I'd attempted to call my student's phone to no avail. He informed me that it should be no surprise since cellphone use was banned for everyone in the school. However, that did surprise me. What baffled me even more was what I saw when I turned the corner from the Tardis structure -- a gaggle of students texting on their cellphones. It would appear that only the adults were adhering to the cellphone ban.

I believe that was also the year that a New Jersey middle school principal grabbed national attention as he not only banned all cellphones in his school, but also urged all parents to deny their children access to social media, because he felt it was unnecessary. Unfortunately, that attitude was far too prevalent among administrators in regard to mobile devices back then. Administrators often used the FERPA, CIPA and COPPA laws to justify the banning of technology. Upon a closer look at these laws, that may have been an overreach. At the time, I thought we might refer to this period of history as the "What the Hell Were We Thinking Era."

A Critical 21st Century Skill

Now here we are in the year 2014, and things seem to be changing for many schools.

It would seem that the smartphone is finally getting its due as a computer with telephonic capabilities. Our phones are used as computers even as our computers are now used as phones.

An interesting Nielsen study showed that in March 2012, a majority (50.4 percent) of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones. Mobile devices have also replaced desktop computers as the primary access device to the Internet.

With the acceptance of the smartphone as the truly personal computer of choice for most Americans, it stands to reason that educators should be modeling and mentoring its use for the very skills we are touting as "21st century." A digitally literate culture in a technology-driven society should be teaching its children how to use the devices of choice to access, curate, communicate, collaborate with and create information. Content is now accessible anywhere at any time. What to do with it when accessed is what we need to teach.

Educators no longer have the luxury of determining what content kids will be exposed to. Mobile devices have enabled kids to determine that on their own. Educators need to view smartphones not as a distraction to learning, but as an accelerator. Students can use their personal devices to personalize their learning. They can determine on their own what they want to learn without being in a classroom. The where and when about using these devices may need to be worked out for effectiveness in an academic setting, but banning should no longer be tolerated by communities demanding a relevant education for their children.

Digital Literacy for Teachers

Mobile devices have not replaced the need to learn, but rather created the need to teach and learn differently. Access to information is not the same as it was in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some may consider it negligent to not employ these devices for learning. Banning these devices should not be tolerated. We need to teach our teachers how to use them to their advantage. It is shortsighted and a waste of time and money to place these ever-evolving devices in the hands of kids without properly preparing the educators to understand and work with this relatively new mobile technology -- and technology in general.

The need for digital literacy in order to live, thrive and compete is not only a necessity for our children, but also for those who must educate them. To better educate our children, we need to better educate their educators.

Was this useful?

Comments (13) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Maria's picture

Today the time has changed, in some colleges people asks students to search information while they deliver the lecture. Its actually good as the students can better learn by reading case studies and research paper.

Earlier when the mobile phones were being used to make/receive calls, today they can do everything what a laptop does. So what is that? a change in technology and it requires us to adopt to those changes. Today we have lots of companies enabling people to send messages, audio/video files through the apps like Viber, WhatsApp, Tango with they utilise the minutes. So we are advancing towards latest technology and we should adopt ourselves to those changes.

Dana Pritchett's picture

I work in a small school district in Georgia. We have one high school, one middle school, 2 Pre-K -8 schools and 3 Pre-K-5 schools. The high school battled the ongoing problems of cell phone use inthe classroom until last year they decided to promote BYOT - Bring Your Own Technology. Before implementing this, much planning went into student access to the wifi and what sites would need to be blocked. The kids are allowed to not only bring in their iPhones, iPads or tablets into the classroom but are encouraged to use them to access information. Technology is at our fingertips and no matter what blocks we had on facebook or twitter in the years past, the kids all knew how to get around the blocks. Now instead of having the kids hide their technology and try to sneak around to use it, it is encouraged which of course takes away some of the appeal.

Alan M's picture
Alan M

The presence of connected, mobile devices is only growing and they have the potential to enhance (as well as detract from) education. So I really like the idea of acknowledging this in the classroom as well as addressing the difficult balances it presents.
Related to this opportunity/ challenge, I am seeking feedback from Teachers on their students' questions. Your responses will help us craft a solution to increase the quantity (and improve the quality of questions) , using connected devices. I welcome the participation of interested educators using the link below. Survey results will be shared with participants.

Debora Wondercheck's picture
Debora Wondercheck
Executive Director, Founder of Arts & Learning Conservatory

When technology is used as a tool to support students in performing authentic tasks, the students are in the position of defining their goals, making design decisions, and evaluating their progress.

Nicole's picture
C & I, Leadership, Web Design, High School English

At first I loved the idea of students being able to access technology and use it for their advantage, but as I have watched more and more of my students get smart phones and my school also recently went from an outright ban to outright allowing phone usage (although within the classroom is at the teacher's discretion), performance and behavior has taken a huge turn for the worse. I now have more than half of my students failing, mainly because of use of and poor behavior caused by cell phone usage. And we do have a ban through our wifi on inappropriate sites such as twitter and snapshot, etc.; but if a student has data service through their phone company, this is a mute point.

I have been watching this debate for several years now of whether it is helpful or harmful for our kids and performed a great deal of research about this subject. While I do agree that our students do need to know how to use this technology effectively and it is important for them to know how to discern between authoritative and accurate information through wifi technology, I find cell phone use on a regular basis to be more harmful to our children than helpful. It is harmful both physically and mentally. First, so many of our students are addicted to their phones. Yes, addicted. There is an actual medical term for it called nomophobia. Plus, many countries around the world ban cell phone and wifi usage for their children until the age of at least 16 because studies have shown that it is harmful to their health, especially brain function. Studies have also shown that students are not able to focus on a task while their phone is on. Plus, the reliance on cell phones has seemed to have affected our students ability to think critically on their own, interact appropriately and effectively with other people, or to even figure out or do even the simplest of tasks. I prefer the ban, using a computer lab to learn how to use specific applications, and then maybe having a separate class about the effective use of cellphones in our society.

Jim Samsel's picture
Jim Samsel
ELAR high school teacher, San Antonio TX

I would love to have academic and bandwidth freedom for students and teachers, but responsible tech use is not taught, modeled or understood by most adults.

Jim Samsel's picture
Jim Samsel
ELAR high school teacher, San Antonio TX

I'm amused by the story of the district that gave every kid a filtered iPad believing that only approved content would work on the devices. The kids immediately deleted the user profile and "unlocked" the 'pads so they could access Twitter, Snapchat and much worse...

AndrewPope's picture

Jim Samsel is correct that most adults do not know how to properly use tech in a "responsible" (as judged by others) way. The school setting is a great place to build norms and sound practices. Practices that evolve with time, circumstances and tech changes. As an example, we have always had a 'no tech at the dinner table' rule. It was amended when out daughter went away for school and Sunday dinner now includes an iPad so that we can Skype her into the discussions.

Greedoe's picture
High School English Teacher

It seems there is a disconnect in many districts regarding the concept of cell phone usage. Policy dictates cell phone usage but the school community acts with disregard because either the policy is not relevant or not enforced. I know in the districts I work for a little bit of education and enforcement of policy would go a long way. Tools like Remind101 are an excellent way for teachers to connect with students and this type of usage should be explored but constant access to cell phones, smart or otherwise is just distracting. I am not for an outright ban, especially since some students have only their smartphones to access the internet at home and would therefore use their phones at school in the same way but I would advocate for an adjusted policy on appropriate cell phone usage.

Greedoe's picture
High School English Teacher

This is a great example of how to utilize technology for the betterment of a situation. I often apply the same types of rules with my students as I do with my sons. Modeling appropriate tech. usage can be a powerful thing.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.