Last Friday, I had a very thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation with a teacher at our alternative high school. The subject was our district’s cellphone-friendly policy, which recognizes the potential positive applications of these increasingly powerful, pocket-sized computers. The discussion focused (in my mind, at least) on the need for a clear plan when a school or district implements such a policy. While I assured him plans were in the works to offer clear guidelines for students and teachers, I had to admit that no explicit direction was in place when the policy went into effect. I am a strong supporter of the plan, but the teacher, who I truly respect, offered some insightful anecdotes based upon his experiences so far. Three that stood out with me follow.
- Students are often (usually, in fact) unaware of the impolite nature of their cellphone use. It isn’t unheard of to have a student actually take a call during class. Illustrating this adroitly, I checked an email on my Droid while we were speaking. It was nothing more than a glance lasting 4 or 5 seconds, but for that time, my attention left the teacher and communicated, albeit unintentionally, that my email was more important than our conversation. For many today, manners seem like an antiquated concept, but they are vital to an increasingly cooperative, collaborative society. I had to sheepishly apologize and agree completely with his point.
- Cell phones are not always useful or appropriate in the classroom. Teachers who forbid their use during class may be viewed as some type of rebellious dinosaur. Just like any technology, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and teachers need to have the ability to make their own decisions about how to use or not use the devices in ways that best meet the needs of students and the requirements of the curriculum.
- Not all students have cell phones, much less the more powerful smart phones. Equity of access is a real issue, particularly in low-income schools. I asserted that we should still try to take advantage of the resources which were available, but I see his point.
We are in the embryonic stage in our cell phone policy. Teachers and administrators would immediately confiscate phones that were seen being used in school barely over a year ago. Teachers need to see examples of their applicability in the curriculum, and students need real guidance in the proper and appropriate ways they can take advantage of this freedom. There is immense potential in the use of these little tools in the curriculum, but it is imperative that schools do their research and formulate clear plans for acceptable and effective use, or teachers will grow frustrated and resistant in a hurry, and students will end up missing out on the opportunity to leverage a powerful technology.