Mobiles in the classroom

An issue which sees heated arguments and intense polarization, is the issue of allowing mobile phones to school.

Many of the key arguments centre around:

  1. Distractions (self and others)
  2. Waste of time
  3. High level of screen time and even addiction
  4. No utility in a classroom when a teacher is around
  5. Allows cheating
  6. Cellphone radiation can cause tumours
  7. Interferes with socialization
  8. Cyber bullying and other misuse can’t be prevented
  9. Privacy can be compromised by misuse too
  10. Better suited for higher grades, higher performers
  11. Difficult to maintain and track (BYOD/if not provisioned centrally)

Some of the arguments for allowing mobile phones in school are:

  1. Some misuse may also be correlated with physical behaviors and not attributable to mobile phones
  2. Mobile phones may act as sources of analytics for in class engagement
  3. They may be used for supplementary digital content, projects research, capturing lecture notes, asking questions, finding answers, planning, sharing documents, homework, attendance, in-class interactions, practice and revision, and many other needs by both teachers and students
  4. Way to be more creative and productive, de-stress, track learning, collaborate and so on
  5. Move beyond the physical confines of class – invite experts, virtual field trips, global collaboration, simulations and AR/VR
  6. Practical difficulties in enforcing bans, for parents to reach children and so on.
  7. Teachers can model ‘good’ uses of phones while students can be trusted to self-govern
  8. Mobile phones can be used to monitor health situations
  9. Help to breakdown school to home barriers, with access to community, teachers, content, assignments etc. Anywhere, anytime
  10. Make classrooms more inclusive and democratic; level the playing field for the disadvantaged sections
  11. Use data to augment teacher insights and self-assessment
  12. Anonymous access – to remove fear barriers or insecurities of students
  13. Environment friendly, less heavy
  14. Can be used on the go, on field trips

This debate is not going to go away and there are no easy answers. But here is a thought. The present system of education was not designed for certain disruptions, because they simply did not exist at that time. Remember this is also where we need to consider opinions about other digital devices like laptops or smartwatches. They have suffered a similar fate.

Not all such disruptions have made their way into the system. Perhaps schools have closed their walls to social networks, mobile technology, live-streaming and many other disruptions not because they were considered inimical, but because they threatened the dominant pedagogy and threatened to have a life of their own!

Perhaps the reason wasn’t the ideological conflict, but that the risks firmly outweighed any benefits. Certainly, this is what many governments, students and parents believe, if you were to view some of the research, or even ask around.

Perhaps it was too expensive and constricting to demand investments in locked down versions of hardware and software by parents and schools (certainly many schools have provisioned secure devices).

Perhaps we have never questioned the traditional system so ardently for similar faults – in fact, the damage to students seems far more widespread worldwide within the existing systems of education – and is still found acceptable! Can one say that the existing systems are ‘holier than thou’ – beyond any accusations of dumbing down entire generations through (say) rote learning?

These disruptions have demanded a shift from the local to the global from broadcast to connection making, from teacher control to autonomy, and from closed to open systems. You cannot view these disruptions as mild changes that can be assimilated – these disruptions question all you have thought about what school is or isn’t.

My stake in the ground? Let us get going on constructive discussions on how these disruptions can be mainstreamed into our collective consciousness, where they become an integral part of our systems. Let us gain the knowledge and experience needed to take full leverage towards achieving educational objectives and the well-being of our students. Let us educate ourselves and others in the beneficial and productive use of these disruptions.

But, of course, you could just ban them.


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