I teach online grad school classes in how to integrate tech into education. One topic I always ask students is how they manage cell phone usage in their classes. Protocols for these mobile devices have little in common today with how they were addressed a decade ago.
In 2009, a National Center for Education Statistics survey showed that about 90% of schools prohibited cell phones during school hours. Now, in 2019, that’s dropped to about a third.
Schools that do allow cell phone usage struggle with best practices. For example, most students have them but not all students. What do you do about personal devices that circumvent the school security to access the Internet? How do you apply a different set of rules for in-class and outside-of-class?
Before I get into solutions, let’s discuss the pros and cons of using cell phones in class.
In many schools, Internet access is spotty, undependable, and a challenge to manage. More schools than you’d expect still struggle with the robustness of their infrastructure. Too often, school digital devices can’t connect, or can’t connect in the volume required to run a class. Cell phones fix that. I often hear anecdotal stories of how student personal devices are allowed in class to make up this shortfall in the school’s infrastructure.
Another common reason is that cell phones are simply easier to use. When students want to do quick research on a topic, look up a word, run a calculation, or review a concept, they can hop on a cell phone much faster than logging into a Chromebook or laptop. Because mobile devices are faster, it satisfies student curiosity and builds their passion to be lifelong learners.
Third, high school students are preparing for their future. Whether that’s college or career, it will include cell phones. Why not show students the right way to use these devices while they’re still listening?
Fourth, and probably the first reason parents come up with, is that cell phones provide contact in case of emergency. The most visible example of this was the Parkland School Shooting in February, 2019. Students not only called 911 but were able to reassure parents via messaging and phone calls that they were OK. And this works both ways. Parents, too, can reach out to tell their child they’ll be late picking them up or that they forgot a book. Calling or messaging a child on a family cell phone is much faster than going through the school office.