What about those cell phones?

A recent question on Quora:

If you are a teacher, is there a way to tell students to put away their cell phones that creates willingness in them rather than just annoyance?

This is an interesting twist on an all-too-common topic of discussion among teachers. Usually the question is simply how to enforce such a policy, rather than how to replace annoyance with willingness.

But first, let’s step back and look at various possible strategies. Many schools simply ban cell phones school-wide, sometimes even insisting that they stay in the locker. That’s an option, but it seems Draconian, and there’s a trade-off, as it ignores the many benefits of having a cell phone. Other schools limit phones to certain places, like the cafeteria, or to certain times, such as “when you’re not in class” or “when the teacher says you can use them.” There may even be schools that freely permit phones anywhere and at any time.

You may wonder what the benefits of having a phone in school could possibly be. Aside from the ever-increasing anxiety of parents who have to get in touch with their kids right now —right now,  like immediately, like right away — and the corresponding need of kids to get in touch with parents in case of real or perceived emergency, there are also legitimate academic uses. For example:

  • When the blackboard/whiteboard is filled with calculations and other information, I have often had students take a photo of the board (and maybe they even look at the photo later).
  • There are apps available for instant online quizzes to get real-time feedback.
  • Students without a computer can look up information, download assignments, and check Google Classroom.
  • Students without a calculator can use their phone as a calculator.
  • And so forth.

The simplest rule, so simple that it’s unenforceable, is alluded to in the opening question above: put away your phone when you shouldn’t have it out.

Anyway, do read Daniel Kaplan’s thorough response in the link in my opening sentence. He has a good point. And here’s a related image from a Canadian blog:

Categories: Teaching & Learning