Should cell phones be banned from classrooms?

I was invited to respond to a school ban on cellphone use in a CTV two Alberta Primetime interview this week.

The interview was prompted by information about a Toronto middle school ban on cellphones in classrooms – http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-school-bans-cellphones-from-classrooms-1.3295140

I learned this type of interview is called a double-header interview. In this case, the interviews occurred at the same time but in different locations. I was interviewed at a studio in Calgary and the other participant and host were located in the Edmonton studio.  This meant I was in a broadcast room in Calgary looking at a camera and could not see the host or other participants during the interview.  I could only hear the audio through an earpiece.

As I prepared for the interview, I tried to think of key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here’s some of the key messages based on research that I have been involved in over many years as well as professional experiences in teaching and leading in K-12 and post-secondary environments:

  • A balanced approach is needed with a focus on learning.
  • Allowing students to use mobile devices and particularly their own mobile devices in schools requires intentional design by the teachers and school administrators.
  • There are benefits for learners of all ages. In research I have been involved in from K-12, we have observed when students are intellectually engaged, they use technology in meaningful ways. Likewise, when students are disengaged in learning, they use technology for non-educational purposes.
  • Learning can be scaffolded where learners are provided with increasing responsibility in using the tools of their day. As educators we have responsibility in designing learning opportunities that are meaningful in a digital age.  We have a responsibility to coach students when they encounter difficulties in learning. We can’t expect students will automatically know how to use technologies responsibly without providing any opportunities for learning WITH technologies in school.
  • When we ban cell phones, we are not promoting balance and we are not promoting learning for today’s students with today’s tools for learning.
  • The fear of managing situations arising from the use of cell phones often moves a school to making decisions such as completely banning these devices instead of dealing with the structural causes or other underlying causes of the misbehaviors and helping youngsters, teachers, school leaders and parents learn from the situations. Banning cell phones avoids the issues.  We can spend time patrolling to make sure the rules are followed or we can spend time designing meaning learning opportunities. Banning cell phones eliminates opportunities for learning and this includes opportunities for learning from our failures.
  • We miss critical learning opportunities both when we ban cell phones and when we allow for unguided and unlimited use. Let’s aim for a balanced approach where we make learning the focus and use the tools in meaningful and ethical ways.

 

Here’s a link to the video:

http://alberta.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1070078&binId=1.2002989&playlistPageNum=1

 

How has technology changed back-to-school preparations?

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It’s that time of year again!  As a parent, I help my kids prepare for back to school and as an online instructor, I prepare for teaching Fall term graduate courses.

 

One of my fondest memories about back to school time as a child was shopping for school supplies and buying new clothes. My kids will likely have a similar memory about back to school but instead of remembering the journey to the mall and returning home with a bag of supplies and new runners, they will remember searching online stores and anticipating deliveries arriving at on the door step. I love to shop at the mall but notice my children do not share the same enthusiasm for crowded malls at this time of year; they love to shop in online spaces.

 

I also remember back to school as a time to organize my room and desk at home, and organize dividers and binders for my school subjects.  I noticed my son taking time this week to organize his digital files. In addition, he’s making sure his laptop is ready for school, backpack loaded with appropriate cableshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsconnectors and digital texts are accessible.

 

Along with the excitement associated with back-to-school preparations there is also some anxiety.  I recall not sleeping the night before school started as I worried about which teachers I would have and which students would be in my class.  Similarly, kids today anxiously wait to find out who they will be working with for the year.  In some schools parents have individual login accounts and can check on the class allocations through online systems. In other cases schools post class lists outside of the building so kids find out on the first day.   I also know of some schools that send postcards or welcome letters via regular mail. My kids receive a phone call home directly from the teacher a few days before school begins.   A phone call home is a nice personalized touch and can work well to alleviate anxiety for those receiving the calls. However, students who do not receive calls remain anxious until the call finally comes in or the first day of school.

 

I previously taught face-to-face courses and now teach online. My preparation as an online instructor involves preparing the course syllabus and adding content to the online space for the course. I need to think of ice-breakers and ways for my students to get to know each other and how I can begin fostering relationships with each of my students.  For example, in an online course, discussion forums can be used for self-introductions.  Students can use use text, photos, audio or video to post their introductory note. It is important for the instructor to also post an introduction. Students can also provide introductions during the synchronous online sessions through elevator introductions. Students are asked to imagine they are meeting a group for the first time on an elevator and have about 30-60s to provide a brief introduction about their professional and research experiences.  The #SoMe activity described by Lisa Nielsen at http:http://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadstheinnovativeeducator.blogspot.cahttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploads2014http://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploads08http://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsits-some-great-back-to-school-activity.html is a great example of an introductory activity that can be used in face-to-face or online classes providing students with a creative way to introduce themselves to their classmates.

 

Have you observed other ways technology is changing how we prepare for back-to-school or deal with the excitement and anxiety of back-to-school time?