By Nick McDaniels – Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote a post called “How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education.” I finished that post with these words: “One thing is for sure, no matter how well a teacher can engage students with the use of technology in the classroom, until legislatures, parents, schools and teachers find an effective way to keep cell phones out of schools, one little piece of technology will out-compete the rest for the attention of students, and thus work to destroy education as we know it.”
I then proceeded to argue about this proposition with Ed. Tech. advocates. I was ed-tech-born-again and integrated cell phones into lesson plans. I admitted that I was wrong about cell phones. I even wrote this post in 2011 about my transformation.
But, now, I think I was right the first time. Because, you see, now student cell phone use is no longer an act of defiance, but an act of need. Students today (born after 2000!) do not know a world without SmartPhones. The phones are appendages. They are a part of their ability to be social creatures in this world. The students check and use their cell phones habitually, not defiantly. They “need” the phones!
And herein lies the problem. My cell phone management plan used to be fairly successful, because I was limiting a want and not a need. Now though, when I correct a student’s phone use, the reaction is perplexingly different. Before, I would get a lot of push back. Now, students politely apologize, and temporarily redirect. But 30 seconds later… the phone again. Now when I ask to take student phones, I get way more push back than ever before. Sometimes I challenge students to not look at their phone for 10 minutes, and sometimes they are unsuccessful.
When I have tried to allow students to use their phones for research, the temptation to drift away from the school task to social media is nearly unbearable, and lesson engagement derails quickly. As such, the only solution I have found is, quite simply, that students not be allowed to use phones in class. The hard part about this is, for old people like me (I am 27), that we are trying to design policy to prevent or redirect an action that we simply don’t understand, and that I am just beginning to understand. But, we must do something, even if it is not perfect. And that something has to involve limiting the use of cell phones in classroom. Because no matter how interesting my lesson is, it will never be as engaging as what is on that cell phone.