Monday, June 7, 2010

Should Smart Phones Be Banned in Schools?

By Jacob Gutnicki

The rise of smart phones is undeniably a phenomenon, which continues to transform how we work, communicate, and play in the 21st century. Like the Internet before it, people across the globe are migrating to this technology at backbreaking speeds. We are also seeing these handheld devices being used in classrooms as science probes, photo editors, data entry tools, and of course for text/audio communications. In watching these feats of technological prowess, one cannot help but awe as we watch our motivated youth learning through these technologies. Additionally, there is no question that within 5-10 years the desktop computer will be obsolete and its users who cling to this relic from the past will be deemed the dinosaurs of technology. With this in mind, one would think supporting smart phone usage in the school system is a no brainer.

To this I say, “Not so fast!” In adapting any new technology (and even not so new technology) for classroom use, one must consider the following factors; educational benefits, risks, and child safety. Let us start by examining the last factor. According to recent surveys, 41% of children have been threatened via their smart phone. Even worse, smart phones along with its texting features are the preferred devices of teenage gangs. Subsequently, smart phones are being utilized to cheat in the classroom and to record/post inappropriate information about teachers. Smart phones are also being used by people who;

  • Pretend they are other people online to trick others
  • Spread lies and rumors about victims
  • Trick people into revealing personal information
  • Send or forward mean text messages
  • Post pictures of victims without their consent

Many educators have also complained that they are a disruption and cause students to easily get distracted. So does this mean smart phones should be banned? After all smart phones are also being used to;

  • Text-missed assignments to classmates that are absent
  • Perform math functions as the new math curricula encourages the use of a calculator for problem-solving
  • Take pictures of notes from the board

Many teenagers have also been known to use their smart phones in various situations that helped protect their safety. Additionally, a quick scan of the Innovative Educator web site reveals a myriad of effective practices already being used in which smart phone technology is being harnessed to empower and teach students. Never the less, every safety study on smart phone technology has reported the rise of cyber-bullying and other negative activities. Can we as educators ignore this looming danger? Does the cited danger validate a ban on smart phones within our school system? Is there a way to make smart phone use safer and acceptable in the school environment? For example, can an Acceptable User Policy help the situation? These are not easy questions to answer. Having said that, here are a few more thoughts on this perplexing matter.

For the time being those who are pro smart phone and those who do not support its use will stick with their position and will not stray from their point of view. However, regardless of one’s standpoint, it is clear that no child should be allowed to use a smart phone within a school setting without signing an Acceptable User Policy. The Acceptable User Policy should require students to attend a minimum of 2 smart phone safety seminars in which they learn about lurking dangers and how to handle those situations. Additionally, an Acceptable User Policy should require students to;

  • Register their smart phone with the local law enforcement.
  • Understand that they can only send appropriate text, email, or picture messages.
  • Understand that they should not give their address or other personal information on a phone call, text, or email to people they do not know, or if others can hear them.
  • Understand that they should never respond to an email, text, picture, or voice message from someone they don’t know.
  • Agree that they will inform an adult they trust if they receive anything on their phone—a call, a text message, an e-mail, a picture, or voicemail message that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Delineate which applications and web sites are appropriate for school use.

Finally, the use of Smart Phones is an earned privilege with the understanding that students will lose their device and other privileges if they violate any of the above rules.

If a school or district promotes an anti smart phone policy, the topic of Cyber Bullying should still be addressed at least twice a year. After all, Cyber Bullying is a problem that is not limited to smart phones. This is evident as a recent survey conducted by the National Crime Prevention Council reported that 43% of middle school students;

  • received an e-mail or an instant message that made them upset
  • had something posted on a social networking site that made them upset
  • had been made fun of in a chat room
  • had something posted on a Web site that made them upset
  • had something posted online that they did not want others to see
  • were afraid to go on the computer

Subsequently, I urge all schools and districts to review their technology policy and examine if their plan adequately addresses the rise of Cyber Bullying and make the appropriate adaptations if needed. For more information visit; http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/ and http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying.

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