Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On students being able to use cell phones in school.

We're now seeing momentum build on the notion that perhaps cell phones could be used by students within regular classroom lessons. (Do I hear the distant scream of a high school assistant principal somewhere out there?) Anyway, one of my perspectives on the issue of whether or not large public school systems should allow students to use cell phones and their related "applications" in guided lessons follows: (After all, don't all students today have cell phones in their pockets? Why not leverage them as an instructional tool?)

While today’s cell phones have evolved into sophisticated communication devices, many with e-mail and Internet access – and most with digital camera capabilities – their effectiveness as a practical instructional tool may be overshadowed by their influence as a negative distraction in the classroom environment. The challenges of keeping students on task while preventing disciplinary issues because of cell phones are factors that diminish their attractiveness as a tool for teaching and learning. Other issues to be considered include equitable access, cost, and cellular signal coverage.

First, while many students today do have cell phones, some do not, which creates the potential for unequal access by students. Secondly, the introduction of cell phones for academic instruction could present an undue financial burden for parents who may view them as a required school item for which they have to pay for. (read: another increase in school fees for our "free education") And finally, cell phone reception inside many of today's newer schools is either poor or, in some cases, nonexistent. The newer schools with new seismic-rated building codes require concrete-filled block walls (CMU block) which many times prevents consistent cellular signal reception building-wide. This is clearly a hindrance to reliable cell phone operation, unless a district goes to the expense of adding cellular signal repeaters inside the school.

And to further complicate the discussion of student cell phone use in schools, and perhaps more importantly, many cell phones function as web browsers giving students the ability to visit web sites and view web pages. Because of federal FCC regulations, public schools are bound by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which specifies that the school district maintain Internet safety procedures including strict measures for blocking and filtering students’ access to inappropriate content. Futher, the district must also have the ability to monitor their online activities. If students are permitted to use these uncontrolled communication devices during the instructional day, the district would lilely lose the ability to filter their Internet content or to monitor their online activities, putting the district at risk of non-compliance with CIPA.

Because progressive school systems ussually have a wide variety of other resources and tools for integrating technology into the learning process, the risks and liabilities associated with student cell phone use in schools outweighs their benefits -- at least right now.


JrS said...

Excellent thoughts. I'm trying to use cell phones and iPods as learning tools in my classroom. Figuring out exactly how to do it is a challenge, but worth the effort I think.