BYOD | Viewpoint

A Time and Place for Cell Phones?

As magazine editors, one of our jobs is to act as information "gatekeepers." Along with operating as human spell checkers, encouraging writers, and maintaining deadlines, we try to make educated guesses about the kinds of information and analysis our readers either want or need. It’s an inexact science that I feel like we get right more often than not at T.H.E. Journal--but occasionally I am caught by surprise.

For instance, I never would have imagined the storm of comments readers had to a handful of articles we published over the last few weeks concerning the use of mobile devices in education, in general, and the use of smartphones either in or after class, in particular. I am happy to see we have such an engaged readership, but I am surprised at the depth of feeling against the use of mobile devices in the classroom.

Here is a sampling of the comments on the subject we received over a period of just a couple of days from our readers:

  • "The more technology we add, the less education we are giving and the more problems we see."
  • "Take your head out of the sand. Cell phones have been a boon for the illicit drug trade and increased gang activity."
  • "What makes anyone think that these devices will be used for learning instead of gossip?" 
  • "Schools and teachers have no way to manage when and where the students are ‘plugged in.’ It has quickly grown to an addiction I doubt a 12-step program would help."

I’m not stacking the deck here—most of those who commented wrote they believed smartphones and other devices had no place in school.

That would be fine, and I’d feel like our readers were telling me something I should know if I didn’t keep editing stories where the term “anytime-anywhere” learning pops up frequently (so frequently, in fact, that I decided we had to come up with a standard style for our use of the term). In the last couple of months alone, perhaps a dozen different administrators, teachers, and technology directors have talked to me about a new world emerging in which students can learn “anytime-anywhere” and education will not end when the bell rings at 4 p.m.

This might happen, these advocates believe, because students readily take to their devices anyway and why, they wonder, shouldn’t educators take advantage of that by extending the school day. A good example might be Kathleen Fulton’s article on "The Flipped Classroom" in the April issue of T.H.E. Journal,which describes students at a Minnesota high school who are using devices to watch their math teachers give their lessons on YouTube in the evening and then devoting their class time the following day to solving problems with the help of the teacher, making better use of their time both in and out of the classroom.

This kind of “anytime-anywhere” learning might have a fighting chance if we can get past this muddle of contradictions about the proper place for mobile devices. Can such a simple tool (so inexpensive, really, that some parents give them to young children) simultaneously be an “addiction” and a key to “anytime-anywhere” learning?

This is a contradiction I hope everyone interested in K-12 education can discuss and eventually resolve. I’m glad, as well, if T.H.E. Journal can be a platform for the discussion.

Continue the conversation. E-mail me.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.