Cellphones, tablets now welcomed rather than banned in classrooms

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Josh Pennell
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Technology once seen as a nuisance and distraction in the classroom is now being embraced as a tool to advance creativity and harness the interest of students.

Cellphones, once banned in classrooms, are having the rules around their presence reassessed.

Gabrielle Martin, a teacher of grades 10-12 at St. Bonaventure’s College, is a proponent of using technology in the classroom. Once outlawed from the class in her school, cellphone use in the class is now up to the individual teacher’s discretion.

“They can bring them into the room, but they’re expected to be either in their bag or turned off or on vibrate and obviously nobody answers their phone,” says Martin.

The phones were, in fact, an issue before being allowed in class.

”What we found in a lot of cases was that students were still using them. They were bringing their phones to class and then they were hiding them under their desk and doing things with them that they shouldn’t and that’s the problem that you really want to avoid.”

The easiest way to avoid that problem seems to be acknowledging their presence by getting students to take cellphones out and lay them on their desk in classes where they will be used. Then tell them when they can use them.

“The problem with banning them from the classroom is the cellphone has become so central to how students experience the world that to ignore its presence or forbid its presence has become counterproductive,” Martin says.

Something educators say they have to consider is that, unlike people more than 30 years old — and maybe even a little younger — today’s pre-university students don’t really know a world without rampant cellphone use. As Martin describes it, it’s a part of who they are — how they communicate, express themselves and function day to day.

“A tool doesn’t begin to describe what it is to them,” she says. “They’re not separate from it and we are.”

So Martin is attempting to make it an integrated part of the lessons, along with other technological tools such as iPads or similar devices. She has begun using QR code technology, which is simply a bar code in a box. Cellphones can read QR codes and take students directly to a website she wants them to view — a painstaking task when students have to type out long links. Scanning the code may also bring up text such as questions.

The cellphone has become so central to how students experience the world that to ignore its presence or forbid its presence has become counterproductive. Gabrielle Martin, teacher, St. Bonaventure’s College

“It fits so well with how they’re working and conducting their business in the world anyway,” Martin says.

Austin Keeping, a teacher at Prince of Wales Collegiate (PWC) who is just about to start his first year as vice-principal of Booth Memorial High School, agrees with the philosophy. He says most students have them anyway, so teachers may as well come up with ways to use them as a teaching mechanism.

“In my opinion, it’s becoming more and more something that’s accepted.”

Like St. Bon’s, cellphones were once banned in the classrooms at PWC, but the school has taken a more liberal approach. As far as the phones still being a distraction is concerned, Keeping says that’s going to be the case with everything for some kids, a sentiment Martin echos.

“A student who’s going to be distracted is going to find a way to manifest that distraction,” she says.

The iPad and other similar tablet devices are becoming more acceptable, as well.

Martin says her school even considered making the purchase of one mandatory and including the cost with that of other school fees — a policy that is being used in other schools in Canada. The school finally decided to start a bit more slowly by integrating such tools into the curriculum.

She says the school prevents people who don’t have cellphones or tablets from being left out by pairing students up or forming groups.

The challenge now is for teachers to be innovative, , says Martin.

“The limit is really in our creativity and our ability to find ways to use (the devices).”

Organizations: Prince of Wales Collegiate, Booth Memorial High School

Geographic location: Bonaventure, Canada

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  • Ryan
    September 03, 2013 - 09:02

    Planning on making iPads mandatory as part of school fees. What about the families on social services. Not everybody can just go out and spend 3 or 4 hundred dollars on stuff like that

    • JB
      September 03, 2013 - 14:11

      That's a private school so if you can afford to send your kid there, you can afford the extra cost. However, how much longer before the public system follows. MDJH already has an iPad per classroom.

  • Steve
    September 03, 2013 - 07:35

    But what does the research say? I'm no expert, but at least one recent study raised concerns that laptops in the classroom may actually lower grades: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/students-use-of-laptops-in-class-found-to-lower-grades/article13783601/#dashboard/follows/

  • Joe
    September 03, 2013 - 07:33

    And they wonder why young workers can only get jobs at McDonald's. When they become Doctors I guess they will rely on their cell phone to make their diagnoses. One good thing there will be no stupid kids. They will all be as smart as their smart phones.