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School cell phone policies differ in firmness, flexibility

In only a few decades time, cell phones have become a necessity for the everyday lives of students (Maddox, 2012; Obringer & Coffey, 2007). In 2009, The Speak Up National Research Project stated that 98% of high school students had access to a cell phone (Learning in the 21st century, 2011). Given this, the purpose of this paper is to examine cell phone use in secondary education settings and to make a clear decision as to whether or not secondary settings, as they currently exist, are bettered or worsened by student cell phone use.

     Perspective 1 will suggest that secondary settings are improved by classroom cell phone use. The following specifics will be evaluated: timely communication in emergency situations, understanding of proper cell phone etiquette as a crucial element for functioning within the educational system, the instructional value of text messaging. Perspective 2 will suggest that secondary education settings are made worse by classroom cell phone use. The following specifics will be evaluated: cell phones as distractions of student and teacher learning, cell phone use policies and their infringement of parental upbringing rights, possible inequalities among students, administrative concerns about student cell phone use.

Perspective 1: Cell Phones Enrich Secondary Education Classrooms

     According to research cell phones and their pager predecessors were entirely banned from schools when they first came into existence (Gerard, 2006). This remained the case from the 1980s up until two major events: The Columbine High School Massacre and the September 11th New York World Trade Center attacks (Gerard, 2006). Following these two events the commonplace across the board ban on cell phones was adjusted by many districts (Gerard, 2006). The desire for this change came from many sides. First and foremost in the push to adjust former cell phone policies were parents. The feelings of uncertainty that came for parents following the tragedies described brought on a strong desire have a clear-cut way to contact their children in case of an emergency (Thomas & Orthober, 2011; Gerard, 2006) and according to studies “parents and children [still] believe cell phones are essential for keeping in touch with each other” (Baker, Lusk, & Neuhauser, 2012; Devit and Roker, 2009). It has been established that parental involvement and support are crucial factors to students’ general success in school (Kessler-Sklar, 2000). Accepting this, one can see how recognition of parent opinions regarding cell-phone policies and the circumstances around them was essential to maintaining optimally functioning schools. Those in charge of, and employed by, school districts also began to recognize the practical nature of students armed with cell phones, particularly after learning that the first 911 calls during The Columbine Massacre came from students with cell phones (Gerard, 2006). In short, the need for efficient student-parent communication caused a significant cell phone policy change. That need is still present, which makes cell phones an integral part of student education (Burns & Lohenry, 2010).

     Burns and Lohenry (2010) explained that student understanding of cell phone etiquette for educational settings is essential for creating optimal learning environments. The authors describe college students who have not been properly taught educational setting cell phone etiquette and often utilize cell phones during class for Internet, texting, and even calling purposes. Their descriptions of this behavior is used to point out the fact that that bans on cell phones at the secondary level do not solve the problems that cell phones bring into educational settings. Rather than a ban, students should be taught how to responsibly use a cell phone during school hours (e.g. silence cell phones, do not access cell phones during instructional periods). Davis (2010) supports this idea as well.

     Thomas and Orthober (2011) concluded in their recent study that students are capable of, and motivated to, use cell phones and cell phone texting abilities to enhance learning. The idea is that this enhanced learning could be accomplished by using cell phone text messaging to increase educational interactions (Thomas & Orthober, 2011; Corbeil & Corbeil, 2007; Liu, et al., 2003; Markett et al., 2006; Motiwalla, 2007). The Thomas and Orthober (2011) study was specifically set up to increase these educational interactions not only between students and teachers, but also between students and fellow students. The study arranged for 76 students to have the option to receive text messages regarding class assignments. Provided with these messages, it was expected that students would stay up-to-date on current assignments ask the teacher and fellow students questions when help was needed. Sixty-one percent of the sample group was declared to have been bettered educationally through these optional text messages. The study described and the research that came before it show that there is indeed an instructional value to text messaging.

Perspective 2: Cell Phones Lessen the Quality of Learning

Current research on cell phone use in secondary education settings clearly shows cell phone use to have significantly negative effects for students due to the element of distraction. The first and most basic of these distractions is the sound of cell phone ringers students often neglect to silence before the beginning of lessons (Froese et al., 2012; Burns & Lohenry, 2010; Campbell, 2006). Another established distraction made possible by modern cell phones is the option to use social networking via a cell phones internet service. According to several recent publications and current events news sites students using cell phones to access social networking sites during instructional periods has become commonplace (Froese, et al., 2012; Rubinkam, 2010; Bayer, Klein, & Rubinstein, 2009; Besser, 2007).

One Skolnik and Puzo (2008) research project conducted on the use of technology in the classroom indicated that fifteen percent of students who had access to technology which could connect them to the internet eventually lost interest in the lesson at hand and re-focused on various device applications. Another 2008 study reported that even those students adept at multitasking were ultimately negatively affected by said multitasking (Baker, Lusk, & Neuhauser, 2012; Fried, 2008). The educational consensus seems to be that cell phones in the classroom lessen the overall quality of learning.

Maddox’s (2012) research clearly demonstrates how common cell phone policies employed by school districts directly conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause which grants parents the fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children (Maddox, 2012). The examples provided by Maddox are a long list of situations in which a school district confiscated a cell phone from a student (and in these cases kept that phone beyond school hours) in accordance with that district’s policy of non-cell phone use. Each scenario produced parents that believed their right to stay in constant contact with their child was being violated. Despite the protests of parents, most school districts continue to maintain a cell phone policy that infringes on the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause described above (Maddox, 2012). In turn, districts are alienating parents whose support is needed to secure students’ success in school for student support (need for parent support established on page 3 by Kessler-Sklar, 2000).

Another negative aspect of allowing cell phone use in the secondary education classroom settings is the level of inequality that cell phones may bring. Thomas and Orthober’s 2011 study (described on page 5) may have shown there to be benefits to using cell phone text messaging to enhance classroom activities, however the study also pointed out a major cause of inequality between students. It is explained that 5% of the sample group were not able to participate due to lack of a cell phone or lack of a text messaging option within their service plan. The researchers point out their study’s clear limitations when they enter the following:

“Although this seems like a relatively small percentage of students, the lack of access by even one student in public education, limits the instructional use of texting to supplemental.” (Thomas & Orthober, 2011)

     Administrators may be the most concerned about allowing cell phone use in secondary education settings. Their concern is brought on by professional experiences and educational research that proves cell phones are continuously used for cyber bullying, plagiarism, the exchanging of sexual text messages, the taking of unauthorized photos in school, and other possible improper uses of cell phones (Maddox, 2012).


Your Blogger’s Position

There are clearly data which strongly support the banishment of cell phones from classrooms as well as data that support an immersion of cell phones into classroom activities. Your blogger has never taken to absolutes when seeking to decide on a position on a particular educational issue and this paper is not an exception. In turn, it is suggested that a hybrid of the two perspectives offered be considered.

Two factors established by available research which cannot be ignored are cell phones as a distraction of student learning, and cell phones as a tool of inequality. The majority of the research offered here has directed the developing of a position based on the fact that even the most disciplined of students statistically become distracted by cell phones when in daily use in the classroom (Worthman, Mathews, Wetterau, 2010). As it was established on page 8 by the provided Thomas & Orthober quote, the student body of the educational system as it exists now does not meet the requirement for cell phone use to become a standard part of classroom lessons (that requirement being 100% of students in possession of cell phones). Until these factors change, it is the position of your blogger that cell phones should not be in general use in the classroom.

There are, however, other aspects of the presented research that may be enacted to allow classrooms to benefit from cell phone use in the classroom. School district bans on cell phone use should be lifted and replaced by a general restriction of cell phone use during instructional times (e.g. when an actual lesson is occurring for a student) which allows the teacher of a classroom the option to allow student use of cell phones as a supplemental lesson tool. This adjustment would allow the benefit of easy student-parent contact, and would allow teachers to reinforce appropriate cell phone etiquette in the classroom (Kolb, 2011). Additional research shows that students are likely to respect this policy as they do have a strong sense of what is socially unacceptable (Charles, 2012; Ito et al., 2010). These adjustments to cell phone policies would aide districts in further aligning the taught and hidden curriculums with the realities of the modern world in which students will enter following the completion of secondary education degrees (Diamantes, 2010; Humble-Thaden, 2011; Jonassen & Wilson, 1999).