Banning mobile phones makes less sense than ever.

In many schools I visit, mobile phones are still disallowed, or more often, can be carried to school but must be stored in lockers or switched off in class. This seems especially the case in Primary Schools, but is also true in many Secondary Schools.

I think, this is simply because many schools haven’t revised their mobile phone policy in recent months. In the olden days (say, 2009) There was an argument to be made, that mobile phones in the classroom would be a disruption because students might not be discerning in their use (especially in regard to text messaging). Easier, than to educate students about courteous phone use, was to simply ban them. Problem solved! For the record, I never agreed with that line of thinking – but I can understand why so many schools have taken that approach.

It gets a little silly though, when a school with a “no phone policy” implements an “iPad program” – and that is happening more often than you might imagine! The iPad now (since October 2011) ships with iMessage, an app that allows free, unlimited text messaging between iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, iPod Touch) and Macs with iMessage installed. (As an aside, iMessage is currently an optional download for Macs, but the next version of OS X – Mountain Lion – will similarly ship with iMessage pre-installed).

As with all Apple-installed iOS apps (Calendar, Mail, Settings, Safari, etc) the iMessage app can’t be deleted from the iPad even if you want to! (see image above).

This time last year, it was possible to stop students texting in class by simply prohibiting mobile phones. Now to achieve the same outcome we would need to extend the ban to cover iPads and in the foreseeable future, laptops too. It’s time to take the only reasonable course of action (which was always the most prudent course of action): to re-write our policies to welcome all devices, and do the hard work of teaching our students to use them judiciously.

The opening address from Norm Fuller, the President of the QSPA (Queensland Secondary Principal’s Association), At last month’s QSPA annual conference, centred around his forecast that “The future of education is ‘Mobile'”. If that is true – and I don’t doubt it is – then banning tablets in school is borderline negligent. But if we embrace tablets, it makes little sense to ban phones.

6 thoughts on “Banning mobile phones makes less sense than ever.

  1. Absolutely spot on.
    Netbook or iPad – so many ways to message.
    When we started turning phones on in class we saw students taking photos of notes/diagrams on the board, taking photos and videos of experiments, filiming their reflections on projects, doing quick google searches, checking email & messages from teachers, as a backup for Internet access when things are slow…..
    Students texting in class is our barometer that they are not engaged – so we try and do something about that.
    If anyone needs a positive spin on mobile phones – since we have had phones in class we have almost stamped out the passing of paper notes and reading of mags under the workbook!
    Next step for many schools is to unblock YouTube as there are so many ways for students to access this already.

    • Thanks Steve, Yes I too was delighted when I realized that my students were searching for information that they were then contributing to the discussion.

      Your comment about using texting as a barometer of how engaging/boring the teacher is being, reminds me of a quote from Seth Godin: “If your audience isn’t listening to you, it’s not their fault; it’s yours”.

  2. It appears in evolutionary theory that what extends human beings further from our animal friends is the need to and complexity of our communication – it’s inbuilt in our evolutionary brains. We made tools for our thumbs and tools for our brains. Imagine telling a carpenterary student electric drills will be banned fron the classroom or a medical student that dissection will be used and not x-ray.

    • Thanks Rups – yes imagine it. Your comment highlights how in education we have tended to approach technology differently than in other industries. Other industries generally, it seems, embrace tools that amplify their effectiveness or efficiency (not necessarily all workers in the industry are rapt about the changes – but the industry itself embraces tools that enable faster or better work). Our profession, though, tends, by default, to reject technologies that threaten the status quo. (reading your comment – I was imagining a patient being told by her doctor “I know about these new-fangled machines: CT scans, fMRI, X-rays, etc. But I feel more comfortable with my trusty old scalpel, so I’m gonna open you up and poke around with my finger to see what’s going on in there.” lol.

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