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Gilbert Halcrow

I feel that the issue is being over complicated by creating a false dichotomy between mobile phones and computers. Nokia current catch phrase ‘This is what computers have become’ says it all.

The line between old media devices, computers, game consuls, recording/playing devices and communication devices is becoming so hybridised that soon there will be no distinction.

The ultimate digital device will connect and communicate, so you can collaborate, create, publish and store all in the palm of your hand. Oh, actually they are already here and they are getting cheaper every year.

A student could be on a laptop in class on a social network or playing online games and be completely off-task. Equally another student could have their mobile out videoing a class presentation in Geography, that then get uploaded to a digital portfolio as evidence of progression.

Banning phones is not developing responsible citizenship. We could always write notes in class or graffiti on walls – did our teachers ban pens and pencils? No because they were essential for learning, as essential as mobile digital devices are today’s generation of students.

There is no denying that technology has transformed ‘off-task’ behaviour and ‘bullying’ and the strategies we employ to mediate negative behaviour must evolve to meet the challenge, but if we focus on the technology and not the behaviours then we will never evolve.

Technology brings power and with power comes responsibility. We must stream and scaffold the use of technology within our schools, in the same way that we do with all other responsibilities, such as access to different spaces in a school. We should award greater freedom to students when evidence of mature use of technology has been demonstrated.

Those behaviours are not hard to define - in a class context the technology is used to teach/learn. In a school social context the technology is used in a constructive and respectful way. I am sure schools already have codes of behaviour that just need to be adapted for a digital environment.

I think use of technology should be staged across a school as this creates an ‘aspirational’ attitude in a school which goes to reinforce an effective system. Infringements should be dealt with the same severity as other behavioural dysfunctional; to make it clear that behaviours around technology are part of the same value system as all other behaviours in the school.

Beyond those broad ideas the fine details must be down to the individual context of the school – here in Hong Kong with a technology rich, but largely compliant student body the approach is very different to the inner city schools I have taught in the UK.

Above all we should never stop introducing the potential of technology to transform learning, because of fears of its abuse.

It worries me that the solution seems so simple, am I missing something? Am I really that niave?

Sean Williams

I teach in the primary grades and I already have students using cell phones for assignments . Mostly taking pictures but we are starting to get into academic texting as well. Policies need to get in line with reality. Once students start using mobile technology (which is getting younger all the time) they will demand it. Rightfully so.

Scott Elias

Very timely post. I actually Twittered about a comment a teacher made to me yesterday in the hallway in passing about a categorical ban on cell phones. (This was not a curmudgeonly old teacher, either! She is younger than me!)

The ensuing Twitter conversation was great, supporting my position that it should be up to the teacher in the classroom. The trouble is that there are some teachers who would rather fall back on the administration to enforce this rule and therefore was a whole-school cell phone ban.

At the same time, we have a French teacher with 30 years of experience having her students use their cell phones to create podcasts and audio messages for students overseas and posting them on her wiki.

I think we need to reframe the problem - cell phones will not disappear from campuses. So instead of "What punishments will deter kids from using them?" we should probably be asking how we can embrace the fact that they're here to stay.


The problems are not cell phones, so much as how the unacceptable uses are new & difficult to address with current strategies. For example, if a paper & pencil test can easily be answered by texting a correct answer to another student, teachers will have to do what they have always done: pay attention to what their students are doing in class.

Using cameras / phones / messaging to bully, gossip, threaten are not so much the problem of the technology, but of how to get along with others.

Not paying attention in class because of a cell phone isn't much different from reading, doodling, writing notes, talking.

Bringing valuable items to school -- iPhones, SideKick -- means taking responsibility for your own property. I don't know if cell phones are that big an item for theft, but maybe they could be.

School-wide standards are important, but I've always thought it was more important to worry about what sort of learning was happening in the classroom next door than if students were allowed to wear hats, chew gum, or use the bathroom during class time. I've found that many, maybe most, teachers want a school-wide rule when it's a rule that they believe should be enforced (wearing hats in class, for example), but have a hard time justifying when the same activity is allowed in the next classroom.

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