Enemies to Productivity?

I just finished watching a thought-provoking presentation by Iqbal Quadir. Iqbal asserts that technology, particularly those technologies that have facilitated communication, have been critical to the growth and success of democratic societies and the economic welfare of their citizens. He states,

“If citizens can network and make themselves more organized and productive, so that their voices are heard, so then things would improve.”

Quadir, who grew up in Bangladesh, where the ratio of people to phones was 500 to 1, also states that the telephone is a weapon against poverty, because increasing connectivity results in increased productivity. Phones act like rivers or highways, improving reliability and enabling specialization. Quadir put his ideas into action, leaving a New York banking job to set up a rural cellular network in his home country. The results have had a dramatic impact, increasing productivity, personal welfare, and the country’s GNP.

This presentation struck home with me, as I considered the general view of cellphones in schools today and a new direction being taken by Birdville, my home district. By and large, cellphones are considered to be nuisances, and, if allowed at all, they are only to be used outside of classroom hours or in the case of an emergency. Within the classroom, they are detrimental to the learning process, distracting students from the “important” matters of the curriculum. Here is a typical scenario pulled from last week’s headlines. Through a new, more progressive policy phones are allowed only in high school, and only if out of sight and turned off. Notice this statement: “Last year, 1,253 high school students were cited for violating the cell phone policy.” Clearly, there are serious discipline issues in this school (Sarcasm intended–imagine how much instructional time and effort is used wasted enforcing such policies.).

I’m truly not intending to pick on this particular district, because I do believe it is representative of the typical No phonesAmerican school system. A technology that has the ability to facilitate communication between students, parents, teachers, scientists, researchers, astronauts, doctors, politicians, etc. is viewed as a distraction. A tool that can be used to take photos, record video/audio. and access the Internet is seen as a means for students to cheat (As if it requires a cell phone to accomplish that. Might as well ban paper and pencils, while we’re at it.). Rather than address their use in a forward-thinking, progressive manner, most schools opt for the easy route, which is, of course, to eliminate the “threat.” How sadly ironic it is that in a land where cellphones are moving toward equaling the total population (230 million subscribers by the end of 2006), where the devices are being put into the hands of students of almost all ages (My 2nd grade daughter has classmates who own them.), and in a time when the power they possess surpasses the capabilities of the computers I grew up with, we can’t find a way to leverage them in every classroom.

Imagine applying the same concepts put forth by Quadir in the classroom. Cell phones used to connect students, used to have instant access to information, used to communicate information instantly between teachers, students, parents. Is it not conceivable that the results would mirror those in Bangladesh? Might students become empowered and connected, and their productivity and power actually increase?

Next year will be the first in my own district to put this to the test.  We are starting a new era of cell-phone-friendly schools, as we attempt to take advantage of their capabilities and find new ways of using them in our curriculum. It will be interesting, particularly to see how some reluctant teachers respond to the new policy. Students will have to display responsibility and discipline to make it work, as well. If teachers can adapt, and if students demonstrate as much energy, creativity, and excitement in the actual implementation as they did in our recent student technology summit, the potential impact is quite significant. I will be posting further on this as we move forward with this. I’ll also be digging for more success stories of implementation, so please share if you have any!



Cell Phone Use Exploding (2007). Retrieved April 23, 2009, from http://china.usc.edu/ShowAverageDay.aspx?articleID=663&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.

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No cell phones!

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  1. Randy, I thought Quadir’s experience with bringing phone service to Bangladesh was a real-world testament to how international networks can work to provide the masses of any society with a voice for change, a voice for betterment of humanity, a voice for economic mobility. I admire Quadir’s analogy that a cash cow can nourish a village with milk just as a telephone line can nourish a village with cell phone connectivity, Internet mobility, and income stability. Raising the standard of world communications raises the standard for collaborative enterprises that make a world of difference for millions of families across India. Producing more because people can connect more is a strategy for elevating the masses from poverty status to blossoming status.

    I thought Quadir’s finding was significant in pointing out that aid to foreign countries was a problem because it only helped those in power and never reached those in need. Aid to foreign political powers made the political powers independent of the masses and made the masses dependent on foreign aid. It put a damper on the poverty masses being able to demand the government to take action to help the masses become productive and independent. The government remains dependent on foreign aid instead of finding its own voice in working with the majority of the people. The majority of the people and the government become estranged when foreign aid is pivotal for operations and welfare. Is the same analogy for state government where federal aid to states keeps the state government from working with the majority of teachers, administrators, parents, and students who become estranged in pivotal operations and welfare concerns? A mobile communications system bridged the gap between government and the masses in India. A mobile communications system can also bridge the gap between government, administrators, teachers, parents, and students in mobilizing a curriculum that is stimulated with content experts, practitioners, and leaders in the field of knowledge. These components make a difference in the experiential day-to-day life and school activities of all students, teachers, administrators, parents, and government officials.

    As far as examples of where cell phones can make a difference in education, the Greening Schools (2009) website is a good place to start. I liked the Rain Garden initiative, the Solar Schools initiative, and the Organic School Project, just to name a few. The Rain Garden Initiative (Illinois Department of Natural Resources ,2009) helps prevent flooding and improve storm water management. Schools plant rain gardens consisting entirely of native plant species. Schools provide follow-up maintenance and educational programs so rain gardens bloom into natural water quality systems that collect runoff and filter the groundwater. Student use cell phones to measure runoff, take pictures of water quality, test water quality investigate plant species and growth patterns over a school term, and collaborate on the best ways to plant, grow, and nurture each plant species based on water quality standards.

    Solar Schools Initiative (Illinois Department of Natural Resources ,2009) turns school buildings into hands-on science experiments. It makes science fun and teaches students how their everyday actions can positively or negatively impact the environment. The Solar Schools Programs install 1 kW PV systems at K-12 schools. These are small systems, but students use cell phones to see and record first hand on a daily basis how sunlight is converted to electricity. Students see how schools reduce their electricity consumption by using a clean renewable fuel that is free. Online monitoring provides real-time data on the amount of electricity generated and included in the cell-phone grant. Each solar school installation generates about 1,200 kWh of electricity per year and helps avoid 3600 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions documented in cell phone data collection and analysis.

    The Organic School Project (Illinois Department of Natural Resources ,2009) provides K-12 students with a foundation for a healthy lifestyle through wellness programming initiatives. Cell phones are used to reconnect students to their food source through school and community organic gardens. Students are taught nutrition, mindfulness, and environmental stewardship through an integrated curriculum and wellness workshop. Students are fed more positive foods through the school food service system. Meals are made from scratch, organic, natural and sourced locally when seasonally available. Students make a connection between food they eat and their health. This lifestyle fosters stress-reducing attitudes and behaviors. The program combats childhood obesity epidemics and other health-related illnesses, like childhood diabetes. Cell phones help students collaborate and document food chain links to healthy lifestyle patterns and unhealthy lifestyle consequences.


    Illinois Department of Natural Resources. (2009). The greening schools website. Retrieved April 30, 2009, from http://www.greeningschools.org/news/site_of_the_month.cfm

  2. This morning I was actually having this very conversation with my administrator and coordinator. They both asked me, “How do we use cell phones in class?” I gave a couple of the ‘pat’ answers, use them to send walkaways to the teacher, text the answers to the teacher, use them for the internet access, etc. That would actually be much nicer than having to go to a computer lab in my mind, because then I don’t loose 10 minutes of class time going to the lab and having to wait for the computers to be turned on, etc.

    Anyway, as I was reading the portion of your post about wasting time enforcing cell phone policies, something really struck me. If we allow the use of cell phones, the novelty of texting is going to wear off because the students won’t be trying to “sneak” it in and in all likelihood we would probably see a decline in the incidents of inappropriate use, because they will be using the phones productively. I tend to think that some of the negative behavior we see with cell phones in schools is more a result of the fact that the students are already doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing and their thought process is probably something like, why not do x,y, or z because I am already breaking the rules…

    Perhaps I am rambling a little bit here, but the point is this, we have powerful tools in our pockets, we need to use them productively!

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