To mobile or not to mobile?
The following is my response a potential change in our mobile phone policy. Currently we have a no mobile policy, if seen they are confiscated. I thought it may interest colleagues as it reflects a recent blog post by Malcolm Bellamy. The thoughts and reflections are clearly mine and not my employer.
I have been on the negative end of student mobile use, three years ago a student was upset with my handling of them, the student sent a text to their mum, within the lesson the school secretary had emailed me to say a parent had phoned to complain. I spoke to the parent, after explaining my side of the ‘story’ they were placated and happy with my judgement. I have also been the victim of the accidental phone ringing disturbing the lesson, and the under the desk texting, but ironically as a practitioner I see this has an indication of the quality of engagement I had devised for lesson! I fully understand the potential dangers of opening the mobile phone Pandora’s box.
But on the other hand I have witnessed the power of such technology to enhance, and engage students, in learning. The week before half-term I was discussing a topic and failed to remember a date and without prompting a student had Googled the topic on their phone and told me the answer. Is it right to punish the student for showing such initiative? In a lunch time revision session this week I asked students whether they would be taking notes, again without prompting eight of the ten pulled out smart phones and Ipods and began taking notes. Students should have calculators, but many have such applications on phones, which saved a recent lesson on scales and distance with Year 10. Yes, we have access to digital cameras at College, but one each? Recently a colleague had students utilising their own cameras to take pictures of bad and poor management around the lake, these photos were then annotated within their presentations. Last term I used the dragon dictation app on my smart phone to allow a struggling student to verbally record a response to images from the recent Australian flood, which I was then able to email from my phone to my College account and then forward to the student for editing. This week during form time a student translated a Latin phrase via the Google translator app, Gove would be proud! Homework or exam dates, recorded on the calendar. Last year in Bangor and Berlin, they were indispensible.
One of my targets for this year has been the development of independent learning resources for students at Key Stage 4, since September I have produced podcasts for geography students which can be downloaded from Itunes. Many school departments now have itune accounts, some schools have purchased ipods that are uploaded with revision podcasts that can be lent to students. Over the coming month I intend to start using my IPad in lessons connected to the projector, making use of Google Maps, Google Earth (with are less stable on our system) and various apps to enhance learning. But at present all of these examples infringe on our currently policy, it could be viewed as being unprofessional, a subtle undermining our agreed approach.
Times have changed. I always think back to the Ken Robinson quote about young people and watches, they don’t wear them, they’re not multifunctional. I think our current policy is too narrow; mobile phones are not the only device that students bring to school. We need an acceptable use mobile technology policy, one that clearly states to students, and colleagues, when and how such technology can be used in an appropriate manner.
What I would like to see? I think we need a more enlightened approach to mobile technology. Our acceptable use policy would be a contract between the College and students. We accept that such technology exists, that there is a time and place for it, lunch and break times acceptable, but recording of inappropriate activities via video and photographs no. Failure to follow this would mean the removal of such a privilege for a set period. I know of at least one school that follows such an approach. At the same time we educate students about safe, appropriate and practical use by allowing colleagues to make use of mobile technologies in an appropriate way to enhance learning. At the same time as the introduction of a new policy we start a working group to investigate this area. Google ‘mobile use in the classroom’ and over 1.5 million results are delivered (positive and negative); the recently defunct BECTA had a range of case studies of schools making use of mobile technologies, as a consultant for the GA I know of at least two geography departments that are making use of whole class sets of ipods.
I’ve been at the College now for twelve years and I’m incredibly proud of working here, it has provided me with the opportunity and space to innovate, my fear is that a draconian policy would create further pastoral problems, greater conflict and could stifle such innovation. But I also worry that we would widen the gap between the ‘outside world’ and school. Yes students make fantastic use of ICT at the College, but are we unwittingly saying that such other technologies have no purpose within the learning and development of an individual, that as educators we do not recognise their value; that it is not within our remit to educate them on the potential dangers and benefits of such technologies.
I have drafted this response on my Iphone on the bus home. On my device I can update my Facebook, speak to my personal learning network of educators on twitter, update my blogs, access my emails and college emails, moderate the professional forum I’m involved with, take a photo/video, read the Daily Mail, track my location, order from Amazon etc… I wonder whether it is really appropriate to leave such power hidden within my pocket.
I understand I will be in a minority, but these are my thoughts.