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Cellphones in the Classroom: All Aboard! (Maniacal Laughter)

Cellphones in the classroom… the subject that plagues us all as educators… On this topic, we are all united in our mutual torment.

I approach this topic in the spirit of Ozzy Osbourne: Make-up smudged, disheveled hair, and a slightly delirious glint in my eyes. Throughout my five years an educator, it has certainly been a challenge navigating cellphone use in the classroom.

There’s no mincing words: Cellphones are infuriating for teachers. At younger and younger ages, students are getting cellphones and bringing them into the classroom. The root of the issue? Students lack the self-regulation to put their phones away at the appropriate times. I’ve mentioned the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma in my blog before, but it encapsulates perfectly what I’ve been seeing in my classroom: Students have become addicted to their phones. In testament to this, according to the CDC, “kids ages 8-18 now spend, on average, a whopping 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day.” Society, today, has indeed become “The Digital Age”.

Receiving a “Like” on Facebook… triggers chemical reward in the brain in the form of a burst of dopamine.

Selwyn + Aagaard, p. 20

In one of the articles this week, a phenomenon known as nomophobia was introduced. Nomophobia is the intense attachment to our devices, especially cellphones. According to author Breanna Carels, nomophobia leads to students’ “inability to focus” as well as “stress and anxiety.” These withdrawal symptoms then build up and lead to “inappropriate use of cellular devices”. Specifically, Carels says that “it takes approximately 10 minutes for students to begin to feel anxiety” and that, “overall, the stress and anxiety these students are having in regards to their phones will… reduce mental well-being and diminished productivity.” As a result, Carels urges educators “to change their mindset on cellphones, and look to incorporate these phones in class, rather than banning them.”

I found this article very compelling; I have heard many times that increased screen time is likely having a discernable impact on brain development (research still ongoing). It makes sense, then, that this effect is manifesting itself in withdrawal symptoms when youths’ devices are taken away.

When I researched this topic further, I was shocked to see that, in 2019, Ontario banned cellphone use in the classroom. What, is this 1984? Although improper student cellphone use is infuriating at times, the answer isn’t to outright ban them, especially because technology is one of the main pillars our society is built upon.

In fact, one of the reasons that I’ve been plagued so much by this cellphone conversation is because it’s made me reflect deeper on my own teaching practices. Certainly, I think one of the reasons why students are looking for the dopamine hit on their phones is because they are not being engaged in the classroom. Technology can alleviate this: It can help empower students, provide them with authentic audiences and allow for collaboration.

“In high schools [and in] lots of places, teachers stand at the front of the room and talk, and that’s been going on for many, many years,” said Walton. “Maybe we need to look … [for] different and innovative ways to engage.”

Watson, 2019

I get it. Cellphones are infuriating. There have been countless times throughout my career where I’ve felt that if I had to say, “Put your phone away” one more time I might just turn to dust. On the spot. And although classroom cellphone contracts are great for getting students to take ownership in setting their own rules, no matter what contract you put into place, there will be students who abuse it. However, against the backdrop of an increasingly technologically driven society, the answer is not to just ignore the problem.

To further this point, in this article, the authors argue that “we need to limit our use of mobile phones rather than banning it because we cannot escape the force of technological advancement.” Schools are supposed to mirror the society in which we live. How authentic are schools, really, if cellphones are banned from the classroom? How does banning something so entrenched in our society ensure any meaningful reflection and learning? Aren’t we supposed to be teaching students 21st century skills? (I’m talking to you, Ford government).

As a (semi) seasoned teacher, what I have learned over my last 5 years is there is a time and a place for cellphones in the classroom. Do I think that students should have uninhibited freedom to use their devices in the classroom? No. There needs to be a balance; there are certain learning activities in which cellphones are not conducive to learning. Full stop.

Yet, we should not be so short-sighted to claim that, when our society is so technologically-driven, students do not have anything to learn from their devices. As we have been discussing in this class, technology can lead to wonderful learning opportunities. Teachers should be able to use their professional judgement to determine when cellphones are allowed to be used.

Integrating cellphones into the classroom, whereby students know what is appropriate usage and what is not, will be a struggle. One where we will likely contemplate early retirement. And one where we will definitely have daydreams of blowing up in a Hulk-like rage and smashing every single cellular device in sight (or… is that something just unique to me?)

Buckle up, teachers! Time to channel your inner Ozzy Osbourne and hop aboard the crazy train!


One Reply to “Cellphones in the Classroom: All Aboard! (Maniacal Laughter)”

  1. Kayla,
    I agree with your post. I think the key to cellphone use in the classroom is BALANCE. Banning cellphones is not the answer and can be great tools to enhance learning. In building relationships with students at the start of the year and your expectations of cellphone use, students more likely will follow the rules you have placed. In allude to Ozzy Osbourne it is possible for No More Tears!


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