In this weekend’s special education issue of the Sunday Magazine, an article about cellphones quotes a father describing why he doesn’t want his 11-year-old son, Andreas, to have one: “It’s distracting; it’s a diversion…He needs to be concentrating on his schoolwork.” The article then goes on to describe ways in which schools and students might use cellphones for teaching and learning. Do you have a cellphone? Does it distract you from your schoolwork? What might you say to convince your parents and/or teachers that cellphones can be educational tools?
In “Dial-a-Class,” Elizabeth Green writes:
At [a free camp held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens this summer]…children used Nexus One smartphones, and with the help of probes that zipped bluetooth signals to the phones, the children tested the air for carbon dioxide, particulate matter and noise pollution. Andreas’s job was to use his phone to measure contaminants from idling buses and vans. (New York City requires drivers to turn off their engines when they stop for any significant period near a school.) Andreas and his team found buses idling for as long as 14 minutes.
The project was part of an experiment by the New Youth City Learning Network, which takes as a premise that most children already exist in a digital world. The network is strongly interested in mobile devices: “Anytime-anywhere-anyhow learning” is how its co-founder, Diana Rhoten, describes it. “You can’t do that stuck to your desktop.”
Other new mobile applications include a tool called NOAH that lets you take cellphone pictures of bugs and trees and then sends back an identification of the exact type in as little as 24 hours and one that provides a similar service for historical landmarks, a result of a partnership between the History Channel and Foursquare.
Students: Tell us how you feel about the use of cellphones as educational tools — whether in or out of the classroom.How could your teachers use them during lessons? How could you — or do you — use them on your own for learning? If you have a cellphone, do you agree that it can distract you from your schoolwork?
Teachers: Here are ten ways to teach with this feature.
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
Cell phones are everywhere and have undeniably become an integral part of everyday life. Everyone from teens to seniors seems to have one on their person — even toddlers know how to use them for games and entertainment! Just a few years ago, cell phones were simply used to speak with someone. Now their functions reach far beyond verbal communication to email, texting, entertainment and so much more.
Yet, cell phones can also be problematic or creators of untenable situations. Now, many localities have enacted legislation to prevent distracted driving — talking, texting or using apps while driving. Theaters ask patrons to silence them or turn them off. Libraries frown on the ringing and use of cell phones on their premises. And, of course, schools question the benefits of having a cell phone in class, particularly when they can be a distraction from instruction. Should cell phones be allowed at school? Can they have an instructional purpose in the classroom?
The argument for cell phones
Cell phones have long been favored by parents as a means of keep track of their children and to reach them in case of an emergency. If a child has a medical issue or there is a situation at school, cell phones make it far easier to reach parents. Yet, these uses do not translate to student learning in the classroom.
Teachers can include cell phones and other portable technology in the classroom to aid their instruction. In fact, cell phones, which are now endlessly versatile, can be an excellent teaching resource for many reasons:
- Cell phones can be used to help children with disabilities effectively communicate and learn
- Certain apps and website blockers connected to campus wifi give teachers and administrators control over what sites students cannot access at school
- An increasing number of education apps are being developed and improved upon to help incorporate more interactivity into the learning process
- Students are intimately familiar with and fond of their cell phones. Teachers can use this interest to encourage learning
- The classroom is a great place for students to learn about cell phone etiquette and how to stay safe when using technology
The argument against cell phones
In the classroom, cell phones can become a problem for a number of reasons.
- A ringing or vibrating cell phone is disruptive and can be rude if it occurs during instruction
- Texting and communicating via social media has become a way of life for many young people. This type of constant communication in class is distracting to the student and those around them, and can be harder for an instructor to manage than passing notes in class.
- Cell phones can also been used to help individuals cheat on exams because of their small size and access to endless information. The increased pressure to do well on tests makes this seem like a viable option.
- They can also be a mechanism for cyberbullying and the harassment of other students. The constant access to social media and to each other enables students to spread information or photos very quickly, which can make life unbearable for those being harassed. Rumors or something embarrassing about a teacher or classmate can be spread instantly.
It be innocent, on purpose, or the result of boredom, but an action taken on a cell phone can result in serious consequences.
Who should decide?
The pros and cons of using cell phones in the classroom are clear. But, who should decide if and when to allow them at school or in the classroom?
- The ministry or national government body
- The state governmental body
- The local or district board of education
- Each school
- Each teacher
Cell phones can be positive teaching tools, but they can also be detrimental to the environment in the classroom. While they can save a life, they can also destroy one. However they may appear, it is essential that children and youths learn about the reality of cell phones. In doing so, they can make more positive choices on how and when they use these devices.
Photo: A student uses a cell phone in class. Credit: Bryan McDonald / Flickr