Ethics: A basis for cellphones in class

17 04 2009

Many folks argue that cell phones don’t belong in the school setting.  In an NEA article, teachers are surveyed about their opinions of cell phones in class. Most opinons in this national survey are very biased and narrow minded.  These apprehensive teachers are not only unaware of the advantages to cell phones as a learning tool, but they themselves seemed threatened.  Certainly we can all make a list of reasons to ban phones from class use but how many can come up with reasons to support the use of this Web 2.0 tool?  Among many cell phone applications available for free online, their are some life long lessons that cell phones can help educators convey to their students.  Schools and teachers who support the use of cell phones in class comes down to a matter of teachers pedagogical attitude towards using technology.  The greatest lessons that I teach as a an educator deal less with content and more with life lessons.  Lessons regarding decision making, moral attitudes, and ethics are the ones that leave students engaged, inspired, and thinking..

“Why would you give out your phone number to students?  Why would you invite students to text to other students in class?  Aren’t you worried they will use this network to cheat?”

These questions are fair to ask in this debate.  However, the discussion that can be followed with students in class regarding ethical use of phones is a much greater discussion.  How can we use these tools to our advantage?  These are the questions teachers need to focus on.  Otherwise we run the risk of being another stick on the mud.  Advocates of cell phones in class point out the benefit to schools tech departments, when you consider 4 out of 5 students have cell phones, this increases the number of computers available to students instantly.  Leaders of schools who use cell phones in class have created rules that students can agree to and learn by.  Kipp Rodgers, Principal of Mary Passage Middle School in Newport News, Vrigina, “developed an acceptable use policy. They are not to send text messages to anyone outside the building during class hours. They are not to take photos. They are not allowed to upload anything to YouTube or other Internet sites not approved by the school.”  These rules create a sense of right, which students need more and more in this ever dynamic technology society.  Students engage in learning, feel connected to the real world, and adopt a fair use policy.  In my own classroom setting, I find that kids are aware of all the negatives that teachers and parents fear about inapproriate use of the internet and technology.  When we open up the discussion with kids, instead of dictating our our bias’, we create a world of self-awareness and community.



9 04 2009

“It’s about relationship, it’s about community, it’s about connectivity, it’s about access.” -Greg Whitby

How many teachers today would agree with this statement in regards to education?  The number one hot topic of choice for most employers when hiring deals with relationships.  When I was hired for my first job as a teacher, my principal said, “it is clear that you and I will get along because you are so focused on building relationships.”

I gotta admit, building community and relationships are the reason I got involved in teaching and the same reasons I still teach today.  In order to properly build relationships, it is vital to connect with your audience.   For myself this exchange evolves constantly.  A more recent tool I’ve implemented in my daily routine a school is to greet everyone of my students at the door with a handshake.  This simple gesture builds a connection very literally and at the same time gives students a chance to check in with me on a personal level and creates a sense of belonging, or community.  And if my students are late, they don’t get access to a hand shake that day.  Seems simple, but this tool for engagement, motivation, and accountability carries a lot of weight.  Now if we apply this same model to students ability to access the new Web 2.0 tools, social networking sites, and empower our students through “edutainment” it seems like we have a formula for success that no one would disagree with.
In the same video mentioned before, Learning to Change Changing to Learn, another gentlemen Stephen Heppell, describes the new space that learning takes place in, “nearly now.”  This is the space that exists in texting, twitting, and Facebook.  It is a space that is non-synchronous but nearly.  It allows for multiple ideas to be shared all at the same time.  It allows students to work in a non-judgmental, pressure free, no time limit environment which fosters a softer approach to learning, a true 21st Century value.  It allows for students to engage, evaluate, research, create, and share.  Where a traditional education approach doesn’t draw on student to share very often, this “nearly now” space gives students that opportunity to respond when there ready.  As teachers we talk about “wait time.”  Wait time is the time you must wait to allow students proper time to evaluate, remember, and synthesize a response to a question.  “Nearly now” is essentially wait time.

So, if these tools exist, and our children’s future ride on the idea that the careers they will enter likely do not exist today, then how can we as educators be so limited in our approach to learning?  How can we ban cell phones in schools?  We didn’t have these phones growing up but we are “Digital Immigrants” living in a “Digital Native” world. (Prensky, 2001).   Most arguments in regards to immigration eventually lead to a discussion about assimilation.  Well, how come we spent nearly 45 minutes of a staff meeting talking about repercussion and consequences for students carrying cell phones at school?  And why do we then punish students for building community?  And is it that we are afraid that they aren’t paying attention?  Or are we just illiterate to the world in which students are now living in?  Why do we build firewalls that block information?  Are we afraid that too much information is a bad thing?  If we refuse to adjust to these tools are we then choosing to fall to the way of the dinosaur?

As educators we need to put away our old notions of simply learning from the book and lecture style.  We may not exactly have the key to this problem or even know how to unlock the possibilities, but by embracing the revolution we will emerge stronger, more prone to learning in a non-linear fashion, and filling a reservoir of hope instead of fear.

I love the way Heppell puts it.  This new paradigm in learning represents, “the death of education, and the dawn of learning.”

Learning to Change Changing to Learn Advancing K-12 Technology Leadership, Consortium for School Networking(COSN)


Prensky, Marc. (2001). On the Horizon; Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants .  MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5