Smartphones in School: My Change of Heart (of sorts)

The presence of the smartphone in public schools continues to be a hot topic among parents, teachers, and students. Last month, our school, Trafalgar Middle, put into place a two week ‘digital holiday’ for smartphones in all classrooms. Common areas like the hallways, cafeteria, and library remained still green zones, allowing students to use their devices. The experiment is over and there’s mixed reviews about the overall effectiveness of the trial. Some say it was done to support teachers (with the ban over, now what?), others say it was to prove a point to students (either it was too subtle or not subtle enough). We still may be debating the rationale itself.

Interestingly enough, the school already has a digital device management system that has been in place since my arrival at the school. While it offers accountability and a progressive discipline policy that teachers and staff can refer to when dealing with smartphone misuse, its effectiveness has also been called into question. Students find a way around the system, teachers are extremely busy and micromanaging device use it time consuming, and in many cases, parents have colluded with their child to defend possession of the device. Round and round it goes.

Last week, I spoke with Nelson Star reporter, Bill Metcalfe, and I shared my ‘change of heart’ around the purpose and presence of smartphones in our school. Metcalfe recently published the article and it has resonated with many readers. The piece has resulted in several supportive comments via social media and email. Teachers, former teachers, parents, and concerned members of our community are weighing in. And there appears to be a trend: the presence of student smartphones in our schools might need to be reexamined. Perhaps we can no longer have to be complacent with the existing status quo that argues the pedagogical value of the BYOD (bring your own device to school) dogma. And the associated belief that by not allowing our students access to their smartphones at school somehow puts them behind their peers. That we are doing them a huge disservice.

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In the library where students ‘connect’ at lunch over the use of their smartphones.

However, the most salient and useful part of this debate, for me, continues to be the necessity for regular, honest, and purposeful conversation about our interactions with the digital realm with all of our students. A conservation in all of our contexts and classrooms (this is not just for the technology teacher to tackle alone anymore). And with a multitude of adults in their lives including parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc. Yes, this will take time. It will take perseverance. And no, we never have enough of either. But, these have been our default excuses since the commonplace of student smartphones in schools became a reality in 2012.

What are your thoughts?

Should schools take a more active stance in helping their students develop true digital literacy skills? Are we doing a good job of this already? Do we need more resources to support this important work? How do we make this a priority? What does provincial district, school, and classroom leadership around this look like? Too many questions that have avoided answers for nearly two decades.


One thought on “Smartphones in School: My Change of Heart (of sorts)

  1. Great article Jeff. My fear with the rise of the smartphone age is the loss of basic social skills and how to interact in person with one another. I think the ability for humans to create meaningful relationships with one another is one our greatest gifts. Nearly all my profession opportunities have come from who I know, not how well I can use my smart phone. For me, it’s about creating true connection outside a digital space.


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