Classroom Contraband or Social Segway?

Since the beginning of the school year I have been using cell phones in my classroom as a way to help connect my students with technology and to use as a worthwhile digital writing tool.  Notably, I have written about a social platform called Celly in past blogs and how I believe it can be used for middle school or high school classrooms.  Lately I have been giving a lot of thought about cell phones and their place in schools and the classroom.  As a teacher, parent, and writer I try to look at the use of cell phones from several different perspectives.

To begin, controversy has been surrounding school policies on cell phones for the past several years.  Recently a local paper wrote an article about how local schools are embracing technology and trying different digital tools such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops. The one section of the article discusses how policies are becoming more liberal and students are able to use their cell phones between classes without punishment.  Administrators and school boards are looking more closely at their current policies and trying to decide how to change it without students taking advantage of the policy. For example, students might be able to cheat or use their phone to cyber-bully with access to social media. School districts need to look deeper into the use of cell phones by students.  School districts need to allow students and teachers to use them in their classrooms, not just in the hallways.  One teacher in the article is quoted as saying he felt cell phones were still a distraction in the classroom, but he sometimes allowed students to send him pictures. I have to question this teacher’s thought process. Even if a school district is allowing students to access their cell phone, a teacher can not put themselves in danger by allowing students to send pictures to them.  Practices in the classroom such as this can and are giving the use of cell phones in an educational setting a bad rap.  Integrating a technology such as a cell phone into a specific lesson will garnish more positive feedback and lead to more teachers, parents, and school districts being willing to look at their policies and be more inclined to change them for a 21st century learner.

Besides reading and thinking about school policies on cell phones, there is something to be said about students using mobile devices in a classroom and more students being willing to participate. Back in May of 2011, The New York Times published an article on Social Media and using it to generate more classroom discussion.  Could using cell phones and social platforms like Celly be a way to get reluctant students to participate or are we encouraging students to be less confrontational?  I am really on the fence about this discussion.  There is a part of me as a teacher that really likes to see a student squirm when asked to bring their voice into a discussion.  The moment that a student is uncomfortable is a moment where a student grows and it disciplines us as a teacher to not bail them out of a tough situation.  Teachers see cell phones and social media as another distraction to students, rather than a tool where it could help students participate.  I disagree with this based on my own experiences with my own students.  The one day a week we use Celly and our Wiki space, my students are not cruising the internet or texting their friends.  They are genuinely on task and there are thoughtful conversations taking place amongst members of the class.  The only time I ever see my students playing games or surfing Youtube is if they finish their task early and when I ask my students to take care of their phones, I never have to ask twice.  In the The New York Times Article, a student mentioned how he viewed his classmates as more intelligent and he could understand them more deeply.  I am not sure using a social media tool can lead to deeper thinking.  I believe that can be continued research on all of our parts.  On the other hand, I do think we could reach students who are shy, afraid to ask questions in front of their peers, and students who genuinely have trouble expressing their ideas verbally.  These are the students we try and poke and prod all year and barely get anything out of them when it comes to a classroom discussion.  So, is bringing digital tools that are social into the classroom bridging a communication gap?  Could Twitter or Edmodo help students and teachers have more in depth conversation about a given topic?  Currently there are still a lot of people who doubt the use of such technologies in the classroom.  In addition, there are educators, like myself, who utilize technology in the classroom and relate it to the current curriculum that is in place.

I encourage everyone to read the articles and form your own opinion, but to also keep an open mind to our 21st century learners.

Cheers!


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