If you've considered a cell phone ban in your classroom or school, you're not alone. In 2017, a number of schools around the world moved toward banning electronic devices on campus, and a year earlier a University of Nebraska survey found that 7 out of 10 college students reported their professors had some kind of phone policy implemented in their classroom.
But the question is this: should students have access to their devices in school or is a cell phone ban the best way to go? Speaking with educators across North America, we at Flipd learned the value of both sides of this highly debated argument and explored the pros and cons of having cell phones in school.
Pros: Why You Might Consider Banning Phones
1. An outright ban is respectful to students who want to pay attention
Cell phones have an unfair way of distracting both individual students from the lecture as well as their peers. Dr. Brynn Winegard, award-winning professor and brain-science expert, calls this the cone of distraction.
The problem, she says, isn't students who get distracted — it's that those who want to pay attention are unfairly guided into the cone of distraction, while those operating the technology are able to freely tune in and out of the class.
This sentiment resonates with NYU Media Studies professor, Clay Shirky, whose article Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away went viral. Here he emphasizes the troubling cone of distraction:
Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers.
- Professor Clay Shirky
Shirky goes on to cite that multi-tasking and technology design contribute heavily to a student's inability to focus in the classroom, whether intentional or not. He argues that the problem isn't the student's choice not to pay attention, but rather that "students are trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction."
With a ban in place, students who are trying to listen get to do so without having to compete with unintentional or uncontrollable distractions.
2. Banning cell phones reduces the chance of cheating
In a large classroom with hundreds of students, cheating is a real risk and has major implications for students. Getting caught cheating can result in academic misconduct and expulsion, a high-risk consequence for easily distracted technology-users, especially those who are less capable of self-regulating their phone use.
While banning cell phones won't prevent a determined cheater to successfully do so, it can certainly deter unlikelier individuals from trying to. In competitive academic environments where grades are weighed heavily and students are under serious pressure, a cell phone can become a go-to crutch in some situations.
3. It can improve student success
There is growing evidence that frequent cell phone use is negatively associated with academic performance. A Kent State University study of 500 undergraduate students found there was a negative relationship between frequent cell phone use and grades, as well as lower life satisfaction, increased anxiety, and poor physical health.
Expert brain scientist and leading professor, Dr. Brynn Winegard, strongly believes that technology overuse has led to a growing number of tired, frazzled, and distracted students in school. "Learning is challenging," she says. "You have to be ever-present for it. Students need to come prepared to be in the moment, to be mindful, to expend energy. They need to come prepared for how hard this is going to be." Dr. Winegard emphasizes that students need to come prepared for class to be successful, which means being present and well-rested.
Learning is challenging; you have to be ever-present for it. Students need to come prepared to be in the moment, to be mindful, to expend energy. They need to come prepared for how hard this is going to be.
- Dr. Brynn Winegard
By setting limits around technology use in the classroom, you're creating a space where students will come to unplug from their otherwise hyper-connected life and to focus on the single task of learning.
4. It provides equal opportunity for more students
Not all students have access to a cell phone or other smart device. By banning cell phones from the classroom entirely, these students may not feel left behind or at a disadvantage compared to their peers.
Cons: Why A Phone Ban May Not Be The Right Choice
1. Phones are important in an emergency
Having quick access to a cell phone can make all the difference in a dangerous situation. If phones are turned off, piled at the front of the class, or banned from the classroom altogether, the potential for risk is greater.
Furthermore, many schools use text alerts to notify students of important or urgent information, and if phones are turned off students simply won't get them.
2. Phones can be an effective learning tool
Digital devices offer an opportunity to engage students in a new way. There are technological resources designed to make learning more fun and engaging, and to foster peer-to-peer collaboration and project management.
Moreover, many of these tools help educators identify problems in their lesson or among individual students, which can help educators take effective action. Polling apps, for example, might be able to capture audience engagement and comprehension more easily than hands raised in a large class. Flipd is another tool teachers use to measure, maintain, and increase student engagement.
3. A cell phone ban avoids a teaching opportunity
By dismissing cell phones as inherently distracting tools, we discourage students from learning to manage their use intentionally, productively, and in a way that supports a positive emotional well-being. Technology design expert and professor at New York's Pratt Institute, Pamela Pavliscak, argues that our emotional well-being can be sustained with both on and offline relationships. "Emotional well-being in relationships is conversationally deep, and whether that depth is sustained in person or online matters less," she says.
Emotional well-being in relationships is conversationally deep, and whether that depth is sustained in person or online matters less.
- Professor Pamela Pavliscak
Teaching students to be effective technology consumers is a valuable lesson at any age, and its importance only continues to grow today. By banning devices altogether, this learning opportunity is lost, and students are less likely to use their devices productively.
Education should help prepare students for their future, and an important part of that is preparing them to be both effective listeners and highly intentional and efficient technology users. Enabling students to strike a balance between on and offline experiences will help pave their way toward success.
Are you considering banning phones at school?
Flipd helps thousands of educators frame their technology policy and reduce classroom distractions. The platform saves educators from implementing a device ban while balancing technology use simultaneously.