Have you considered a cell phone ban in your classroom or school? You're not the only one; many educators teaching at varying levels have, at some point, considered it or implemented one. In fact, a University of Nebraska survey found that 7 out of 10 college students reported their professors had a cell phone policy implemented.
But is banning cell phones the way to go?
After speaking with educators across North America, this is what we've learned:
Pros of a cell phone ban
1. It respects 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. Clay Shirky, professor of media studies at NYU writes:
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.
Shirky's article goes on to cite evidence 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 is no longer 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 distractions from their peers.
2. It minimizes the chance of cheating
In a large classroom with hundreds of students, this risk is real. While banning cell phones won't prevent a determined cheater to successfully do so, it can certainly deter others from attempting to. In competitive academic environments where grades are weighed heavily and students are under pressure, a cell phone becomes a real crutch for many students.
With a ban implemented, the risk of cheating can be reduced.
3. It improves student success
There is growing evidence that frequent cell phone use is negatively associated with academic performance. The study of 500 undergraduate students found a negative relationship between frequent cell phone use and grades, as well as lower life satisfaction, increased anxiety, and poor physical health.
By limiting use in the classroom, you're creating a space where students can come to unplug from their otherwise hyper-connected life and focus on a single task.
4. It provides equal opportunity for all students
Not all students have access to a cell phone or other smart device. By eliminating cell phones from the classroom entirely, these students won't feel left behind or at a disadvantage compared to their peers.
Cons of a cell phone ban
1. Cell phones are important in an emergency
Having quick access to a cell phone can make all the difference in a dangerous situation. If cell phones are turned off, piled at the front of the class, or banned from the classroom altogether, the potential risk is much greater.
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. Cell phones are an effective learning tool
Cell phones and technoloy certainly offer an opportunity to engage students in a new way. There are many 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, can capture audience engagement and comprehension more easily than hands raised in a large class.
3. A cell phone ban avoids a learning opportunity
By dismissing cell phones as inherently distracting tools, we discourage students from learning to manage their use intentionally, productively, and responsibly.
...we are called to be more intentional about the use of technology and the value of conversation. We are called to be more explicit about where we are, how conversation can help, and what is likely to get in the way.
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation
Teaching students to be responsible users of their devices, social media, and the internet is a valuable lesson at any age, and its importance only continues to grow. By banning cell phones altogether, this learning opportunity is lost.
Education should help prepare students for their future, and an important part of that is preparing them to be both excellent listeners and intentional technology users.
Considering a cell phone ban?
Flipd is an excellent tool that helps teachers frame their technology policy. The platform saves educators from implementing a cell phone ban while balancing technology simultaneously. With Flipd, students are encouraged to unplug, while educators get unique insights on engagement, participation, and their lecture.