Don’t ban mobiles in schools, let students use them
The furtive glance down into his or her crotch is the tell-tale sign all modern teachers will recognise as a dead give-away that a student is using a mobile phone in class. It’s a comical sight, its sheer obviousness apparently lost on most students, but one that is also serious in its implications – that particular student is probably not paying attention at that moment, and perhaps hasn’t been for quite some time.
Mobile phones are a distraction in class. There’s no debate about this. But, with the exception of some schools where strict discipline is the defining characteristic of its ethos, I don’t think there’s any need to ban them in most schools, In fact, I’d go as far as to say we teachers should be glad that almost all our students will have a mobile phone with them in school. Mobile phones today are mini-computers which can be used as internet browsers, cameras, video and audio recorders, calculators, stop clocks, homework diaries and notebooks. They can be used as data-loggers in science lessons, maps in geography lessons and for listening exercises in language lessons. At a time when few schools can afford to provide every student with a laptop or tablet computing device, mobile phones can allow us to make the most of modern information technology in our classrooms.
In my science lessons, many of my students will use their mobile phones in place of calculators and stop clocks when doing experiments. I also encourage them to use their phones to take photographs of apparatus and to make videos of the phenomena we observe in class. Recently, as part of an activity making cloud chambers, some students filmed the tracks made by different types of nuclear radiation. In watching the video back, they saw a track in the cloud chamber that was not from the radioactive source they were using – it was caused by a cosmic ray, a physical phenomenon related to what they were studying and something the students would not have observed so clearly had they not filmed their work. These were A-level students, but I have also let younger students film “exciting” experiments in class – a great way for them to share what they learn at school with their parents.
There are other occasions when I am happy to let my students use their mobile phones – recording their homework, for example, or putting a reminder for a deadline into their calendars or searching the internet for information. In other words, I let them use their mobile phones in class as they do outside the classroom. And this is perhaps the most important reason why I think schools which ban mobile phone use in schools should reconsider – allowing their use in schools lets us accomplish something which I believe will become increasingly important in education: ensuring the development of digital literacy in our students.
The use of mobile phones offers much more than novelty, fun and excitement – I believe there are tangible educational benefits. Students today have grown up in the digital age and it is surely one of our duties as teachers to create opportunities for them to develop the skills they will need to succeed in a world driven by new technologies. Just as the ability to use word processing, simple spreadsheets and presentation software are now necessary in the modern workplace, it may be just a matter of time before simple digital video and audio manipulation skills are essential. Using mobile phones in class, when other devices are in short supply, provides one way to address these needs.
I‘m not naive – I know that students with permission to use mobile phones in school will not be able to resist checking their text messages and social media updates. That is, they won’t be able to resist doing these things unless they are otherwise engaged with whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing in class. Sure, some students will always find checking their Facebook page more interesting than anything we teachers can offer them in lessons, but the majority of students, like the majority of adults, can be trusted to make their own decisions about the appropriate time and place to check their email or send a text message. And here’s a controversial thought – just as you can quickly send a text message or check your email while doing something else, perhaps students can be trusted to do the same in school? It cannot be right that schools spend huge amounts of money investing in technology to improve and enhance their students’ education whilst ignoring the powerful technological tool that almost every student brings into school every day.Tagged in: education, mobile phones in schools, school
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