Friday, June 01, 2007

Mom! They Took My Cell Phone!

My comment over at Will's

First off, this is an article in the Times about kids, so let's consider the class angle. By all appearances, this story is about privileged white students and parents having a fit over being subjected to something (metal detectors) that many, many poor students in urban schools are subjected to every day. Not to say I agree with the policy, but this is only news when it is done to white kids.

Concerning cell phones in schools in general, I think there is a sensible center, but I'm not sure you've got a grasp on it. It seems to me that having cell phones in school is inevitable, but I really can't see having them on or out in class, with some caveats I'll explain below.

If you are pro-cell phones in schools, does that mean you think seventh graders should be able to answer and place phone calls in your class? If 13 year old kids are sending and receiving SMS's when they should be programming their robots, is it OK for the teacher to tell them to knock it off? If they say, "I'm asking someone a question about my robot" does the teacher have to back off?

I think cell phone enthusiasm is the kind of thing which increases the further one gets from an actual core subject area classroom. It is easy to think of vague, gauzy uses for cell phones in the classroom, but it is a lot harder to think of specific ways they would improve the educational process in an English, Math, Science or Social Studies classroom. The contrast with, say, blogging, is stark; once you understand the basics of blogging the ideas pour out. Certainly in a school like The Met, where kids are off campus much of the time, the utility is clear, but not in most schools, even most progressive schools.

The only reason cell phones will be important pedagogically in schools in 2011 is if educational computing, as it has been constructed over the past three decades, finally fails completely. I think that people who are very excited about the possiblities for cell phones see an opportunity for a fresh start, but it is a mirage. The same problems will follow us, on a platform which is inherently less hospitable than the general purpose computer.


GE said...

Hi Tom,

There are upcoming mobile applications that show some potential for use as productivity tools, is one example, rather than a classroom distraction.

Have you every phoned yourself to leave yourself a message? On another note - have you had your phone taken away at the last meeting you were at, when it went off mistakenly?

Does the principal and teachers at the school carry a cell phone? Are the teachers expected to turn off their phone during class time? Do they forget sometimes? If the teacher forgets should we take away their phone?

We are not talking about guns, we are talking about talking and listening. Perhaps we need to deal with these devices as communication tools and not "toys" or "gadgets", then talk and listen. my 2cents

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

I advocate cell phones for a specific pedagogical purpose. All cell phones in my class are to stay concealed and off unless we have a reason for them, which are as follows:

1) Taking photos/ videos
2) Posting photos to their private ning
3) Recording digitally the information to review for a test.

That is about it. But there is an important reason as a parent that I want my child to have it with them.

GPS locator -- The first moments of a child being taken are the most critical. I want a GPS locator on my child at all times while they are in middle school. It is as simple as that.

No, kids shouldn't be on the phone or texting in class. They shouldn't have it out unless there is a reason, however, as laptops merge into cell phones and cell phones come with infrared keyboards, bluetooth interfaces, and projectors -- we'd be crazy not to use those features in the near future.

Gina Thompson said...

I agree Tom, getting rid of cell phones in schools is not an option. So it's up to the teachers to inforce rules in their own classrooms. A student in my classroom will know that using his/her cellphone is not acceptable and if they have it out, it WILL be taken away from them.

Cell phones are important to have for emergency, GPS purposes. But, for now anyway, they are a huge distraction in the classroom. And not tolerated in mine.

On a side note: I laughed when I read about the girl who cried and the mother who was filing a criminal complaint. Could she be anymore of a White Suburban Yuppie Mother?

tellio said...

"The only reason cell phones will be important pedagogically in schools in 2011 is if educational computing, as it has been constructed over the past three decades, finally fails completely."

I was reinstalling win98 over the weekend on a fubar machine as a mercy job for a wife's friend. I suppose the machine was about seven years old, but I was struck with useability issues especially after having had my monster desktop Mac for six months. What will happen four years down the road for cellphones in education. Well....The capacity for informal education (self-pedagogy, if you will) is astonishing. The cellphone is a pencil that keeps morphing as more lines of convergence keep flowing into it. I agree--as a fresh start cellphone pedagogy in institutions is a non-starter, but as part of one's personal learning ecology it is unparalleled. In four years the only prediction I am willing to make is that their use is going to be way stranger than my callow imagination can reckon.

Tom Hoffman said...

I just don't see how a cellphone's capabilities are going to be more advanced than a (possibly quite compact) laptop's, assuming you're in a building with wifi everywhere.