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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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November272006

Mobile Devices in School: What Policy Would You Create?

In the latest twist in the debate over the role of cell phones in schools, the parents of an Oklahoma high school student have filed larceny charges against two local school officials for refusing to return a confiscated cell phone to their son. This case makes me wonder what kind of policy towards mobile devices you might enact in a school district if you were in charge.

As reported by local television station KTEN, charges were filed by a family who were displeased that the school had taken away their son’s phone after it rang during class hours:

The teacher thought the ringing of the phone interrupted the classwork, and took the phone to the principal’s office. When the student’s parents went to the school to get it back, they were told it was school policy to hold the phone for five days. The mother of the student, Yvonne Walker, was upset because she says the phone is used in case of an emergency.

“He’s 16, he’s got a new job and I worry about him on the road,” said Walker. “His father worries about him on the road, he’s supposed to contact us.”

Mr. Walker said, “That’s why I got the cell phone for him. For his protection and for him to stay in touch with me and it’s not doing him or me a bit of good if the school has it.”

District superintendent Gary Scott defended the actions of the school, noting that the teacher and principal were merely following district policy. According to that policy, students are banned from bringing wireless telecommunications devices onto campus, and those caught with one will have it confiscated for five days.

It seems the main beef the parents have with the school is the length of the punishment. They contacted the school and said that five days were too long and their son should be able to pick it up sooner. They also said punishment should be meted out by them rather than the school. Superintendent Scott replied by noting that there are no exceptions to the policy passed by the school board, and the policy could only be revisited on an annual basis.

Who’s right and who’s wrong in this debate? My sense is that they’re both wrong. In terms of the policy itself, labeling all wireless devices as a fundamental nuisance without any regard to context is probably short-sided. For one thing, the policy seems to acknowledge no difference between a cell phone, a PDA or a wifi-enabled laptop. All wireless devices are treated as a distraction to the learning process, even though when used properly they can easily enhance learning. Of course, there are certain situations in which mobile devices clearly shouldn’t be used - for example, students taking non-emergency phone calls during class or text messaging answers to one another during a test. In cases such as these, it would make more sense for specific behaviors to be labled unacceptable rather than banning an entire class of technologies. And as I’ve written previously, there’s much to be said for the argument that students should be allowed to carry mobile devices in cases of an emergency, as parents in places like Manhattan and Littleton, Colorado have learned the hard way. Meanwhile, one could also argue that the parents in this particular circumstance have overreacted by filing larceny charges against school officials, who were clearly responding in ways demanded by district policies. Unless the phone call in question was an emergency, it certainly should not have been allowed to ring aloud during the class.

So here’s what I’d like to ask of you. If you were a school superintendent with a magic wand that could allow you to bend policymaking to your will, what kind of policy would you craft for mobile devices? Would you adopt a zero-tolerance policy like the school district in Oklahoma, and if so, why? If you allowed students to carry phones, under what circumstances could they be used or not used? If students broke the rules, what’s the appropriate response? What devices - or behaviors - would be in or out? Earn extra points by linking to an actual district policy that does what you think is right, if you can find one.

Who wants to go first? -andy

Filed under : Mobile Devices, Policy

Responses

I think it would be fairly simple and straight forward.

Phones should not be seen or heard during school hours. It is a fact of life the pay phones are not common. In a spread out city like Houston with no public transportation to speak of - cell phones are a safety device.

Personal PDA’s/Laptops should be subject to the same AUP as the school computers while one campus. If IM is prohibited on school computers and student using IM on his/her personal laptop while at school should be subject to the same penalties.

If a student violates the AUP or disrupts class the device should be taken up and the parent required to come and pick it up. The parent should sign a form stating the family is aware of the AUP and consequences for disrupting class. This is in addition to what ever punishment is policy. Maybe (if legal in that state) the school could charge a “processing fee” or fine.

X number of violations would mean that student would be prohibited from bringing electronics on campus for the rest of the year.

Cheating - I know this is a big worry. Earn a 0 on the assignment, banned from bring electronics (if used in cheating) for the rest of the year, suspension or other punishment.

Flat out being disruptive - Well here that is $150 ticket min, and the cops are called.

In terms of any specific policy change as it relates to this matter, I do not feel that any real changes are necessary. I think the most important thing here is disclosure. With disclosure, there is responsibility, awareness, & clear consequences for actions on the part of the student body. If there is an emergency, the parent can call the school during school hours and get information to the child just as effectively as a disruptive cellphone call in the middle of class. There is really no reason why a student should have a cellphone during school hours. I understand that the school atmosphere has changed in a negative way because of school shootings, however, I still believe that a cellphone is not the direct solution to that problem and bears no effect on standard school policies.

Aurie wrote:

If there is an emergency, the parent can call the school during school hours and get information to the child just as effectively as a disruptive cellphone call in the middle of class. There is really no reason why a student should have a cellphone during school hours.

Having parents call the school for run-of-the-mill emergencies has always worked, of course, but in real emergencies - school violence, natural disasters, etc - that just doesn’t work. If the emergency affects the school directly, there’s no way they’ll be able to operate the phone lines adequately. So how do you sell the no-cell approach to parents who have been affected by similar tragedies in the past - as is the case in NYC - and are convinced their children need cell phones? I wonder if any schools form partnerships with mobile companies so parents can buy those cell phones that basically only work for family communications rather than general telephony…. -andy

Instead of total bans, perhaps we should teach proper phone etiquette. Reminders to turn off phones should be placed around the school like in theaters. If a phone rings the student should apologize and remedy the situation. If it is an emergency call, the student should explain and excuse themselves.

Many of my students have children. I didn’t start carrying a phone until I had my son. I wanted the daycare to be able to call me in case of emergency or illness. I feel that my students should have the same right. These same students also have jobs. I have on occassion let them call to change their schedule or inform their employer of potential tardiness.

I strongly support the policy made by the Oklohoma school district. Educators have to focus on education, and unfortunately have to be dealing with a lot of misbehaviour everyday instead. If parents think that their children can take a responsibility to carry a cell phone, they should teach their children to use it in a proper manner. If the child abuse it, he needs to face to music. By the way, there are hundreds of rools and policies that parents, students and school district must follow. So, school district can not reshape its policy for each and every parent. There are certain rights and wrongs everyone should be aware of.
Thanks

Let me ask this, then - does accidentally leaving your phone on during a class constitute abuse? In the oklahoma case, the student wasn’t using the phone inappropriately. He wasn’t even using it - the phone rang. He’s guilty of forgetting to shut the thing off, but is that enough to trigger a no-exceptions confiscation policy?

I would fine students. There’s not too many things that high school students love more than money. I think after a few $5 or $10 fines, those students might think that their text messaging can wait until after class.

OK - there’s a District policy spelled out (I’m sure there is a student handbook) and a form signed by student and parent(s) during registration (at least in my school district.) Pretty clear about the no cell phone rules.
As far as teaching phone etiquette and reminder signs, I can’t tell you how many times a day I tell students to take their phones outside of the school library to make their phone calls. Doesn’t matter if it’s their lunch or break, they still have to go outside. Many students still do SMS and listen to MP3s on their phones.
My biggest concern is the very distinct possibility of cheating using text messaging, surfing the web, viewing phone-captured or sent pictures, etc. How about phone surfing to any of the language translation sites to translate text during a test? Technology is great, but are our students ethically ready for using it?
View my blog: http://beelybox.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=49&Itemid=49

-*-Bill

I would suggest a policy that requires parents to request permission, annually and in writing, from the school administration for their child to carry a cell phone or other electronic communication device on campus with the understanding that it is only to be used before the students arrives on campus and/or once the student has actually left school grounds. An administrator would generally be expected to approve such requests, unless a student had a prior history of abusing the privilege. If there is an emergency, parents should call the school office and have the school office relay the message through the school’s normal communication channels. I also don’t see a need for a child below fourth grade to be carrying a cell phone.

Students should either turn their cell phones off or to a silent mode during the school day (even vibrating can be disruptive, in my opinion). If they forget, an initial reminder to turn it off would be sufficient. A second incident might be grounds for collecting the phone/pager, etc. until the end of the day. I think that devices should be returned to students at the end of the day unless it were a repeated incident. In that case (as with any other disruptive item), it might be appropriate to ask a parent to come in and pick up the item from the office or teacher. Parents and students should be informed of these policies at the time they make the request for their student to carry the communication device.

i think ,mobile phones should allow in the school premises ,but u should set the policy that the mobile phones should be close before entering in the school campus!

I teach. I have taught in a school that bans all electronic devices and one that doesn’t. There is a big difference in the quality of my instruction. In the school that does not ban these devices, teachers are expected to see that phones are turned off, games put away, and MP3 players remain in book bags. It is impossible. Although there are supposed to be consequences for abuse, there in fact are none. Students answer phones, listen to music, and play games under the desks. They hide ear phones under hair; they text message under desks. I am constantly interrupting class to make someone put something away or turn something off. And, if the principal walks in and sees one of these devices in use before I can get to the offender, I am the one who is in trouble. Parents are of little help. When I call home about problems with phones, they say that they will talk to their son or daughter. I rarely see an improvement in behavior. Once, a parent actually took a phone away—for a day.

I am a parent too, and I do want my kids to have access to a phone in an emergency. However, I think these things don’t belong in a classroom. I don’t care what policy schools adopt, but it should be a low-tolerance one—one that inconveniences the parent greatly if the student violates the policy. On a first offense, I would have the student removed from the classroom, and I would confiscate phones and other electronics and make parents come in to retrieve them. On a second offense I would suspend the student one day. I’d up the consequences for each offense and eventually take away the device permanently.

I think we have our priorities confused in education these days. It is impossible for us to prepare students for the complex world they are entering if their ears are plugged up with earphones and their eyes occupied with the latest text message from the friend in another class or across the room. We have enough trouble getting students to read a book on their own rather than play games or watch TV. Let us at least have their attention in school.

This generation of American children is more spoiled and materialistic than all previous generations combined. The real issue here is a culture of pathologically permissive parents who foolishly provide their children with the means for bankrupting the family. I do not know of anyone who strictly controls their children’s phone usage. They all say that the phones are for emergencies, but I challenge anyone to find an American teen without a cell phone attached to their head—and there is no way all of those calls are in regard to an emergency. (unless what Susie is wearing, or who Bobby just kissed counts!) Recently, providers have introduced programs through which parents can control from whom their kids can receive calls, but the sad reality is that these programs will cost the providers a great deal of money, so I imagine this will not catch on too well.

The truth is, tragedies such as the one in Columbine are still exceptionally rare. The emergency argument simply does not hold up to scrutiny.

The school policy should be that anyone with a phone that rings in class gets to spend the rest of the class with the Vice Principle. As far as electronic devices in the classroom being somehow helpful to the educational process, what about the students who cannot hear or concentrate because of the clattering of laptop keys? Do they have rights? I cannot tell you how many times I have fantasized about snatching up a classmate’s laptop, and beating them with it until their head is the consistency of pudding. And please, explain to me exactly how having a Sidekick or a Blackberry in class is conducive to better learning?

Our school has a written policy that all cell phones need to be in their locker and turned off during the school day. Any violations result in the phone being confiscated and THEIR PARENT has to come to school and retrieve the phone. This has significantly cut down on the number of phones confiscated.One of my biggest aggravations is the kids that think since it’s after school, it’s ok to have a cell phone in the library! Everyone thinks it’s their right to have a cell phone, but nobody is teaching these kids about responsible behavior/etiquette with one.

Kelli said:

Everyone thinks it’s their right to have a cell phone, but nobody is teaching these kids about responsible behavior/etiquette with one.

Is this something we should expect schools to be doing, then? -andy

Any major issue in a school is rooted in the leadership style. If an administration creates a foundation based on academic excellence — and truly stands by their vision — then cell phones and other digital technologies (PSPs, MP3 players, etc.)will not stand in the way of achieving high standards.

If a classroom has compelling instruction that pushes the students to think critically about the world — then digital technologies will be embraced. If my students pull out a cell phone — I’m going to ask them to use it. “Take a picture of the wall. What do you see? Send me that picture. Now, let’s examine it and write about what we see as a community.”


So many of your comments are based on fear. Let’s find out why these kids are using these tools and start connecting it to the curriculum. Let’s find ways to promote high level thinking based on the world we live in today. In answer to your question —I say, bring it on. All of it.

Hi, I am a Toy Designer by profession and coincidently enough, I am working on a project of design of Communication device for School going children (9-12)years old.
It was quite informative for me …going through all the comments and suggestions above.
I personally feel and also conclude from my observation and interaction with these children, that there is a need of a communication device for them to keep in touch with their parents and also for emergency purposes. I would like to know more views on this topic.
Can such a device help enhance emotinal bonding between the parent and the child?
I think any such device should not occupy the user’s mind when he is at home or with friends or in school. It should allow more of face to face interaction , which is not happening now because of so many gadgets and games which keep them busy.

Cell phones ring constantly - at the mall, standing in line for the movies, when you are in a public bathroom, and even when graduate students are in class (much less high schoolers). We need to teach proper etiquette for the use of the technologies being developed, not just to our teenagers, but to those people sitting at the next table at the restaurant and discussing the intimate details of their life.

In his book, The End of Education, Neil Postman said that the invention of the motorized tractor help to create the Dust Bowl (along with the obvious extreme drought). The point being, new technologies always have some impact on society but we are not always aware of that impact until we can look back on it.

In short, I think schools should adopt policy on cell phone usage (not possession). If a student is using a phone without authorization during class time, then they should be quickly and severely punished. But having a phone go off in class, that’s a common mistake for adults even (I heard one go off in church not that long ago).

I am a teacher in a school where our policy is that if we see the phone on or being used, then we can take it away and the student’s parent must retrieve it. But this doesn’t work!! Have you ever tried to teach information in an engaging way, keep control and discipline, and keep your eyes keenly peeled UNDERNEATH the desks and into the pockets of 30 students??? Even when they’re taking tests and I’m walking around looking at them and not teaching, I can’t catch them, yet I know they’re texting notes and probably cheating and giving answers!!
So what can be done? There is only one way to stop this, and it doesn’t have to do with consequences, because these kids are too good at not getting caught to stop them with threats of if they do get caught. The change must come from the cell phone companies. They need to make it possible that all call and texting capabilities can be disabled on a student’s phone during school hours (except 911 calls and maybe calls to the parent’s phone…maybe). That way parents can’t whine about not being able to contact their kid after school. Then the school district can let parents know they must have this service on their child’s phone, and if the student is caught using the phone, the school should be able to take it away for good because the parent was negligent for not doing what the school system decreed about cell phones. I do believe this type of service will eventually be available for all cell phones…I just wish it would happen sooner than later!!!

I think we should have cell phones in school becasue if we have an emergency in school and like if the power goes out we should have them to contact someone that could help us. And if there is a hurricane and nobody on the news said that there will be one, we could use our cell phones and contact them and they could send a warning signal out.l Yes, this is my opinion because sometimes the power goes off and wehad nothing to call them with. So we could just get our cells phones and contact someone that can help.

I’m in High School, and I have a cellphone, ipod, and we are not allowed to have them in school, but we bring them anyways. The teachers don’t worry about the cellphones in class, and they let us answer it, if theirs an emergency. As a teenager I think other teens should be able to listen to music, in school but on their lunch break, and talk on cell phones on their lunch break also, but when it comes to texting in class, they shouldn’t be doing that. If the teacher see’s them then they should give them a zero. This is my opinion on electronic devices in schools.

Well I am in High School and i have a cell phone. We can not have cell phones in our school and if we get caught with them they will get taken away..THis actually happened to me once.. I was in class and my phone rang..it was my dad he didn’t know i was still in school.i told him that they were going to take my phone away and he said no they aren’t. THey took my cell away and i told my mom and she wrote a letter complaining and i got back…All in all i think they should let students have cell phones in school in case of emergency’s,staying after school, or going somewhere after school…this is what i believe…

In my high school, cell phones are COMPLETELY banned, but mp3’s are OK during lunch. I think that this policy is totally insane!This last week my phone was taken in English class(our teacher is a little…loopy)AND I WASN’T USING IT!It wasn’t even out. It was turned off in my pocket. She saw the “square shaped thingy in [my] pocket” and said i had to give it to her.
So, the end of the day, i come back to my english classroom and request it back. “I Can’t give it to you, your parents have to come get it.” I think that cell phones should be allowed in schools, especially if they are only used for listening to MP3’s and such during free time(lunch, before school,etc.)

My name is mike i am a senior in high school. I think teachers are overreacting to this whole texting thing. I think it should be an age based decision. I text all day every day pretty much non stop i pull straight A’s and B’s and have no problem. I refuse to let teachers take my phone, I think that they need to enforce it by age. In my state after 17 i dont even have to show up to class. I am responsible and mature enough to know when I can and can not text. If my phones on vibrate and I am keeping to myself I think I should be left to myself. I know its a power struggle but I pay for my phone and i pay my bill and i have good grades. I work on commission and my cell phone number is on my business card. My phone rings all the time and its on vibrate. If my Mom or Dad or brother calls I don’t care if the principal, A.P and the superintendent is right next to me i will answer it, They know my schedule and they wouldn’t call me unless its important. That is the purpose of a cell phone. My girlfriend and i text constantly there is about 6-8 hours that we don’t talk to each other, again we know when we can and can’t. I would love any feedback that anyone would like to give me.

this is a great article but what are the pros. and cons. of having cell phones in school ? write back A.S.A.P im doing a project I need answers!

I believe that schools should allow digital media during class. I believe that if your mom or dad had got in trouble and they did want the school to no what has happen and they would send you a text message, what could you do maybe you have family member that don’t have your mom or dads cell phone number, that’s when texting comes in. Another thing is listening to music wool studying or taking a text or EST. It has been a proven study that you can focus better. This case study focuses on students at a college level and why they choose to listen to music while they are studying or working on an academic project or assignment. The sample of students studied were students of the University of Denver that were studying in the Penrose Library. These students were observed without knowing and some were interviewed in order to collect data for this case study. The data was used to provide reason or proof to claims made by previous scholarly studies about how music actually helps focus and concentration while studying. This case study might also provide new information that other studies did not focus on.

I think that cell phones should only be allowed in schools under certain conditions. I don’t think that we should ban them, but I’m not saying we should always be allowed to use them. I think we should have our phones on vibrate, and only if it’s an emergency call from our parents, we should be allowed to use them. If a student would not follow this then I think that the school should give three warnings first, then contact the parent, and only then should the student’s phone be taken away. But I don’t think that the student’s parent should come take the phone, I think that the student should be allowed to take the phone at the end of the day.

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