Should students be able to use their smartphones in class? Should they even be allowed to have them in school?
Ok, this is risky discussion to get into at the moment. Seems that it’s something you have to take sides on then defend your position to the death. Seems that to have an opinion on the matter means that you are either a “prick” or a “zealot”. We’ll leave aside the issue of whether that is really any way to carry on a “professional” discussion about education. Suffice to say that if you wouldn’t allow the language in your classroom then you shouldn’t use it about professional colleagues, whatever you think of their opinions.
So, onwards into the discussion.
About me first. I approve of the appropriate use of technology in the classroom. Used appropriately technology can enhance the teachers ability to teach and the learners ability to learn. I also, not surprisingly, believe that the only person in charge of a classroom should be the teacher. The teacher decides what technology should be used and when it should be used (but I will come back to that at the end). I feel its kind of sad that I should need to state that. In a discussion between professionals, I shouldn’t need to. No teacher that I have ever spoken to demurs from the views I have stated. Those who believe either that all technology under any circumstances is bad or that the teacher should not be in charge of their classroom are the outliers in the profession.
My view is very simple. If you don’t want to use a particular technology in your classroom, then don’t. As you are a professional, I shall assume that you are competent enough to make that decision and that there is evidence that shows you are effective without its use. If you are an excellent teacher without it, don’t use it just because your students demand it. If on the other hand you do use technology in your lessons, then I shall also assume, unless shown evidence to the contrary, that your students learn at least as well with you using it as they would without. All good teachers will constantly evaluate their own practice and consider how they could teach better. This might lead them to use more or less technology.
Dogmatic positions here are not helpful. Suggestions that anyone who allows the use of smartphones in a lesson only does so to entertain their students or because they are a poor teacher are as unhelpful as the accusation that those that don’t are Luddites.
There is also here a slight mixing of technology with behaviour issues. To paraphrase, “Phones don’t disrupt lessons, students disrupt lessons.” Agreed, it can be another possible tool of distraction with some pretty strong pull factors, but a student who is going to distract your lesson doesn’t usually need the phone as an excuse. They will find another way. If your students can’t cope with having phones, then don’t let them. But that does not need to be the default position. Plenty of schools successfully allow student owned technology in the classroom to good effect.
Briefly about evidence. Simply, there is evidence that some uses of technology are beneficial to learning – in the right circumstances with the right teacher. There is also evidence that technology can hinder learning in some circumstances. Whatever you want to say about the use of technology, you can, if you look hard enough, find the evidence to support it. This is not a surprise given the relatively recent history, and very patchy implementation of technology use in education. This does not automatically mean that as the years go by the evidence base will change one away or the other. It is currently not conclusive, in all cases, one way or the other.
I said I’d come back to the who decides thing.
When I was at school it was the Biro. Biros were not allowed. The only writing implements allowed were pencils and fountain pens. There were some good reasons (Biros could be messy etc). And for many years that line was held. But it didn’t hold forever. It wasn’t because western civilisation became decadent that biros were eventually allowed. It was inevitable change and the improvement of the devices themselves. Now, I’m not suggesting that this will inevitably happen with smartphones (mainly because trying to think about what such a device will be like in 10 years time is difficult).
I do believe that this technology thing is an issue of generational change. This is not to suggest that as soon as everyone over 40 gets out of teaching then technology will reign, but more to say that our current technology is very, very young. Most technology was not developed or designed for the classroom and often needs a degree of geeky desire to make it useful/effective. It is also less than consistently robust. Over 20 or 30 years this will change. We will recognise that some of the things we tried to do with technology in the classroom were quite stupid and ineffective (are you listening, Charles Clarke?). We will also establish which technology uses are essential tools in the teacher toolbox. At some point, some uses of technology will become so ubiquitous that the decision to use may not be that of the teacher. One reason this will happen is that eventually the exam boards will move to computer based (i.e. typed) exams. In my view this is inevitable, if only because it will commercially suit the exam boards. When this happens, who should choose which device to type an essay on, the student or the teacher?
If anyone disagrees with anything I have written above, well great. Discussion and argument are what will improve education for the children in our schools.
Feel free to disagree with anything I have written.
But please don’t call me a prick or a zealot.