More about PhonesJune 16, 2012
My blogpost about “educational” use of phones in class has generated quite a lot of debate, (even a couple of blogposts) and so I thought I’d respond to at least some of it in a new post. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the comments on that post. I would recommend reading through them as here I am mainly revisiting the “attack” posts and there are a lot of better ones that don’t really need a comment from me.
As you may recall, I argued that phones are obviously a distraction from learning. I observed the absurdity of the most common attempt to downplay this issue. I argued that even the alleged benefits of using phones in class relied on accepting the framework of progressive education, which challenges at least some aspects of: the legitimacy of teacher authority; the value of subject content, or the importance of direct instruction. Finally, I observed the typical behaviour of the mobile phone advocates and supporters of progressive education in general when confronted with debate and dissent.
I will revisit each of these points in turn in order to consider the counter-arguments. The distraction issue is, to me, very difficult to overcome but some people have tried. One of the most inevitable approaches (common to the progressive tradition) is simply to dismiss it as a significant problem and suggest that any apparent problem is down to the shortcomings of any teacher who dare disagree and that, a better teacher (often, but not always an appeaser) would have solved those problems:
If a teacher is sufficiently interesting, their students will prefer to concentrate on what s/he is saying. If the teacher is a bore, students will amuse themselves somehow. In my young day, I either passed notes, drew on my textbook, or read my own book under the desk Now I might tweet about how bored I was. (Comment from chris)
If you are crystal clear about when and how phones are to be used, then there isn’t a problem. (Comment from Lindsay)
One thing that does worry me is so many people saying its a classroom management issue… I agree that it is… But as the teacher we will find it a whole lot easier to manage children if we meet them half way where appropriate, and embrace the things they do obviously love! (Comment from Mike Elliott)
I also wonder if part of ( I say part) of the problem with challenging classes which by the way I have lots of: ADHD, abused children, autistic children, and very low ability in one class for 2 years, is that we constantly say ‘you can’t rather than ‘you can’. Challenging children need extra stimulus not just the teacher… (Comment from Mike Elliott)
Obviously I have no sympathy for the “blame the teacher” stuff, particularly in those cases where appeasement, or making lessons more interesting, is suggested as the key to behaviour management. Distractions caused by mobile phone use will be lessened by better classroom management. However, better classroom management comes (in part) from management of distractions. There’s no point working hard to sort out behaviour in one way, only to undermine it in another.
Others (taking a more sensible approach than the behaviour denialists) have questioned the scope of the issue. Do my concerns apply to all learners? Can we trust sixth form students or FE students not to let themselves be distracted? Perhaps we could also ask about students in HE or upper school in grammar schools. It might well be less of a problem in one-to-one tuition or small group teaching where a teacher can directly oversee students more easily. I don’t really have answer to this (feel free to comment if you do) but I feel this is in many ways a side issue to what I was talking about which was, inevitably, based on teaching whole classes in secondary schools.
There’s also the question of the nature of the ban. Having worked at several schools where phones were banned in class, but not in school, and experienced lots of serious misuse, I would heartily recommend complete prohibition with a requirement that if parents insist their children need a phone for the journey to or from school then it should be handed in at reception at the start of the day, and collected at the end. I have seen this work very well indeed, although it needs managers with some backbone. That said, it is always the enforcement that matters more than the precise rules, so in some schools it might be possible to get away with something less strict. However, a rule that says phones are only allowed when teachers say so, is likely to be harmful to learning, as it creates constant pressure for all teachers to conform to the lowest common denominator. Any situation where the recommended sanction for phone use in class is to ask the child to put the phone away is an absolute disaster in most schools.
Little has been said to defend the illogical “would you ban anything else that distracts?” approach, but comments close to that line of argument haven’t discontinued:
I can’t express how strongly I disagree with the attitude that if we find something kids like and enjoy; we ban it! That to me is the insane approach. Comment from Mike Elliott
However, an equally illogical line of argument that I had seen before but didn’t mention last time – that as we cannot hope to eliminate phones completely we shouldn’t ban them – has reappeared (or at least I think that’s what these comments were getting at):
Deciding to block out the existence of mobile phones is like censoring all conversations about sex – the more we avoid something, the more appealing it becomes. We create the taboo and expect children to not be curious. It’s a fairly Victorian concept.
Very hard to know how such a ban could be enforced (good idea or no). Parents might back it in principle but they’ll want an exception made for their wee Jeannie… (Comment from maths teacher)
Apart from the fact I have seen a mobile phone ban work well, the logic of this argument, that if you can’t eliminate something completely then it is best not to prohibit it, is obviously absurd and almost everything that is banned in schools (say, racial abuse or setting fires) provides an obvious counter-example to this line of argument.
There have been a few suggestions for ways of using phones, such as photographing homework instructions, or timing events, that assume a lack of equipment, or laziness, rather than progressive pedagogy, but nobody has really objected to the point about progressive education. Far from denying that progressive ideology is required for a belief in classroom use of mobile phones, people have gone out of their way to reinforce the point. Some have described what happens in their lessons and it does not appear to be the teacher teaching the class:
In the next two weeks, I will be teaching one of my English classes about non-fiction and media by asking them to create a documentary, using their mobiles phones to film interviews and to take pictures. I will trust them to use their phones sensibly by reminding them of the consequences of inappropriate use. I will use technology to facilitate the writing of explanation in the form of ‘voiceovers’, which they will record on their phones and save on a memory stick.
I would have to disagree with you. I am no tech expert, however I do allow my pupils to use phones in class. Here are a few instances of this:
- They can take photos of text book pages and pictures so they can read/look at them at home.
- when we are in an ict room there are never enough pc’s for each pupil so sometimes some pupils research using their phone.
- they are often more comfortable using the camera/video on their phone than a school flip camera and so choose to use it by preference. This also means smaller groups in class when they are making videos
- there are Websites like polleverywhere that I use. This allows the pupils to text in answers and opinions anonymously so I can get some excellent AfL
- in class pupils are starting to ask if they can access my blog to get information to inform their work (this has been particularly noticeable during revision lessons)
There are other instances too, like checking the spelling of a word using a dictionary on their phone that happen quite regularly in lessons. (Comment by geogteacher)
I take all of your points here, but I rarely have all 30 students working in the same class unless I am running a classroom workshop. Most of the time they are using various practice rooms, see my post here:
I am very lucky to work in a school where I can trust 95% of the students. They are far from biddable, but they are respectful on the whole. Have you looked into Musical Futures pedagogy?
I think if a teacher just stands at the front the whole time or in their chair like my secondary teachers did then you’re right it would be hard to manage. However if the teacher sets group work and interacts frequently with the children then it will be so much easier to manage that child in the corner a teacher can’t see to well from the front… (Comment by Mike Elliott)
Others have actually defending the tenets, or slogans, of progressive education:
“Learning involves the intentional acquisition of knowledge and is not simply a by-product of purposeless activity or play.”
Let me quote John Seeley Brown who says in his book “A New Culture of Learning”..
“In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it.” This is not to ignore a need for knowledge but to recognize that simply, knowing a bunch of stuff is no longer suffice. What play does is suggest to the learner that there are multiple ways to find answers and discover ways to solve problems.
You also say,
“Teachers are experts who can pass on knowledge to their students more effectively than if they are left to find it for themselves.”
This assumes the primary purpose of schools is to pass along knowledge. Kids don’t need teachers to give them knowledge, they need teachers to help them learn and learn beyond schools. That includes helping them connect to others. This is the fundamental shift I’d suggest is most difficult for our schools.
… all times it should be about helping them become learners and live in a world that indeed does have ubiquitous access and that in itself should have us questioning our methods. If it doesn’t, if we say, “I don’t care about them having access to the world’s knowledge in their hands, I’m teaching how I’ve always taught”, I’d say that’s problematic.
As one high school student stated, “The day I needed to memorize the capital of Florida ended the day my phone knew the answer”. (Comment by Dean Shareski)
Sure if you’re standing at the front and want kids to pay attention to you, a phone is a distraction and has no place in a school. But what if we taught differently? Should we teach differently? I’m not expecting we understand specifically what that might look like but you’re painting me a picture of the same classroom I was in 30 years ago.
If we haven’t realized by now that the world has epistemically changed and changed precisely in the area of learning, there’s something wrong. (Comment by Dean Shareski)
As a music teacher I deal primarily in “skills”. In terms of an epistemology of music, this could be describes of knowledge how to. This is where I err from Willingham’s view that factual knowledge precedes skill.
…There is an inherent and unhealthy need in western culture to make music into something tangible, which is a result of a traditional hierarchical model applied to music, where the composer sits atop a chain which runs through performer to consumer. The distinction between performer/composer/listener would not be understood in many cultures. There is some excellent research on this the musicologist Nicholas Cook.
By the way I don’t think that project based learning’s requirement for a product is at odds with this observation, as the musical learning is a result of the product, but is not the product itself.
Musical progression is a difficult thing to describe non-musically. Musical Futures has had a massive impact on music education and at its heart is the teaching of music musically. Students experience and internalise sounds first, then learn the factual knowledge associated with this.
As a music teacher, and one who uses a Musical Futures approach, I support the exploration of the judicial use of mobile technology. The potential in the devices seems worth exploration, and the barriers presented are exactly that. They are bad things. They are bad things that we might overcome. (Comment by Martin Said)
This article actually saddens me a little for the following reasons:
1. You say the primary purpose of teachers is to impart knowledge. The whole premise of the current curriculum is that teachers teach skills so that children can acquire their own knowledge. How many of us remember the teacher who told us about some random scientific fact? But does remember the teacher who taught us how to research or search the internet of ask appropriate questions!
Additionally, shouldnt we prepare the children for life outside school and education? If we ban things the kids are only going to use more and more as they get older (which you said yourself) then surely we are hampering their education rather than enhancing it. (Comment by Mike Elliott)
I’m not going to explain here why I think progressive education is wrong, but I would recommend anyone read more widely on this blog before trying to persuade me that there is any benefit to that particular tradition. In particular, there will be several upcoming posts that deal directly with the idea that technological change justifies reducing the subject knowledge content of the curriculum.
Finally, the attitude of the progressives to debate and dissent has been pretty much the same as ever. At least one person who tweeted about my blogpost decided to block me first. Others have been personal or even insulting:
… to completely dismiss mobile technologies as having no place in a classroom is bordering on educational malpractice. (Comment by Dean Shareski)
You write lucidly and argue well Andrew but there is a joylessness here that I sense is a result of you feeling at odds with what you would deem the prominent progressive educationalist view. (Comment by Martin Said)
But it’s exactly this kind of post – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – that is latched onto by the luddites who want to proclaim that technology is bad and use the fallacy in reasoning, “We’ve never done that before, so let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done!” (Even though what we’ve always done doesn’t work…) I’m really disappointed that you are being given this platform and this voice when you simply got in over your head…
…Please stop spouting off about your own deficiencies as a teacher. It’s not relevant that you found mobile phones to be a distraction. You are a survey of 1, but you are influencing others to avoid technology through fear and ungrounded accusations. Please just stop. If you have nothing impactful to say, just say nothing… (Comment by Jesse)
Others have talked as if I’m against all technology in the classroom:
Others have spent time reassuring each other that their arguments aren’t as bad as they seem:
I always enjoy reading your thoughts Dean! I particularly enjoy your last line, “…to completely dismiss mobile technologies as having no place in a classroom is bordering on educational malpractice.” As usual with any educational tool or pedagogical thinking, it seems that it is the absolutes that hinder progress and effectiveness. There are times for this and times for that and complete isolation has seemed to be good only for conflict! (Comment by Kristin Tamas)
I am of the view that little has been said to counter my previous post on by the pro-phones side. If anything we seem only to have confirmed the extent to which advocating the use of phones in class is a proxy for the progressive education, with nothing in its favour for those of us who have no sympathy for the progressive education tradition and who would rather teach than let kids look things up on their phones.