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BYOD | Viewpoint

Why BYOD, Not Banning Cell Phones, Is the Answer

"If your target audience isn't listening to you, it's not their fault, it's yours." --Seth Godin

It's difficult to have a conversation about using cell phones for learning without someone complaining that the phones will be a distraction. These complaints presumably come from those who have never been in schools where cell phones are used as learning tools.

Those who have know that not only do teachers find distraction is not an issue,  they also find students are more engaged and excited about learning. On the other hand, in schools where the use of mobile devices is restricted, students often report they feel like prisoners of their teacher's past.  

Banning is not the answer. Administrators need policies for today's students and teachers need to update outdated practices. We're well into the 21st century and it's time for schools to encourage educators to start using methods that will prepare students for their future rather than relying on the comfortable policies and methods of the past.  

It's not a question of if this works. Teachers around the globe are incorporating cell phones into their practice. They are creating learning environments where they build trust with students, empowering them with the freedom to learn with the tools of their world.

Why must administrators and teachers make this change?

Because, when we continue to blame or ban the technology, we resolve the issue temporarily, but we disregard the root of the problem. When school staff refuse to consider this change, they are ignoring how the world works outside their buildings.

Don't take away student rights and the freedom to learn using the tools they choose. Take the time to find out how to embrace such technology in the classroom and achieve success.

Here are seven strategies to ensure connected students will tune in when learning with mobile technologies.

  1. Ensure the right building blocks are in place
    This includes items such as responsible use policies, parent and/or student agreements, and lessons about safety/etiquette. Schools using cell phones in the classroom incorporate effective tech use into both student and teacher assessment. 

  2. Update outdated classroom management techniques
    While some teachers may have been masters of classroom management in the days before students owned digital devices, the environment has changed. As a result, classroom management techniques must be updated. The nice thing, however, is that you don't have to worry about distribution, collection, storage, imaging , and charging of devices. The teacher should, however, ensure there are protocols in place for when and how students use their devices.

    Teachers like Jason Suter suggest it is best when we work with students to develop these protocols. Here are his students' cell phone rules. Suter explains that when we empower and entrust students with having a say in the rules that govern them, they take ownership of class policies. As a result they are more likely to abide by them and tune in to learning. 

  3. Give students time to socialize
    Most young people are very social and there is nothing wrong with that. School is a great place to socialize. Educators who are successful at integrating technology into learning understand this and provide agreed upon times for students to engage in personal affairs on their digital devices--just as we all do in the real world.

  4. Connect with students in their world
    Ask your students and you'll find that texting is one of their favorite ways to communicate. When teachers give them an opportunity to use that tool for learning, they feel like their teachers are making an effort to relate to them in the ways they appreciate.

  5. Use texting to connect more deeply with students
    Teachers and guidance counselors are texting to connect more deeply with students. For example when Willyn Webb, counselor, educator, and coauthor of Teaching Generation Text, notices a student is absent for more than one day, she sends a message such as, "R u ok?" or "Hope you'll be back soon. We miss you." She might also text to provide recognition to a student such as, "Gr8 contributions in 2day's discussion!" or to provide encouragement to students with texts like, "Gd luck on ur interview!" or "Wishing u well in tryouts.

  6. Engage students
    Innovative educators are inviting students to use their cell phones for learning in the classroom for a variety of purposes. Teachers who are doing this work report students are engaged more deeply than ever before. Students are using cell phones to phonecast (think podcasting without needing any equipment), find information on demand with tools like ChaCha, translate and define with Google SMS, share their feedback with student response systems, and learn and connect with the world using Twitter.

  7. Empower students with strategies to stay focused
    It's not unusual to hear teachers lay the blame on students, saying it is just too distracting for some students. The problem is, it's a teacher's job to help prepare students to be successful in their real world where technology is commonplace. A teacher is not helping a student become successful by creating an artificial environment in school. Instead, teachers can help empower students to take ownership of their learning and self-monitor.

    Michelle Luhtala, Department Chair at New Canaan High School library knows the value of empowering students to assess their workload and time constraints, be in touch with their learning styles, and then decide how to proceed so they can complete their work efficiently. When students own the learning, rather than distracting them, mobile devices can be used to improve their learning.


Educators can no longer encourage dependency learning and dependency attention. Imposing restrictions on students may seem more convenient for those in schools that have not updated their practices, but it is not what is best for students. It is incumbent upon educators to empower students to be independent and responsible learners who can self-monitor and discover the optimal conditions to learn and create.

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