does this mean I let them take them out of their bags?

A post on the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Can someone please tell me once and for all whether I should keep confiscating every cell phone I see?

16 thoughts on “does this mean I let them take them out of their bags?

  1. A friend of mine told me a story that I tell my students. I’ve never had to confiscate a cell phone after telling it to them on the first day or so of class. When a phone rings, usually the student whose phone it is is so appalled, I need say nothing. What is this magical story, you ask? Very simple…. A student answered a cell phone in my friend’s class and actually started a conversation: “Oh hi. Yeah. Nothing much…. just sitting here in English class….” When I get to that part of the story, my students crack up, while some gasp in surprise. I then go on to say that after that incident, my friend told her students that she’d take and keep, as her own, any cells that ring in class. Their reactions to the story seem to create a sense of peer pressure to avoid such philistine behaviour. And it really eems to keep them in line. I’m always amazed at the looks given when cells ring and the sheepishness of the cell owner.


  2. Sorry, I should add that students also keep their phones in their bags. It’s almost as though they feel the need to hide them…..


  3. I’ll have to try that one.

    I actually had an experience like your friend’s – a student’s cell rang during an EXAM, and he answered it, stood up, and started to walk out of the class. I was so shocked I couldn’t move for a second, and then said his name, slowly stood up, and said, “DON’T DO THAT,” in the most ominous voice imaginable. He was startled, hung up, and slunk back to his seat. It was at that moment that I started telling them at the beginning of the semester to put them out of sight or lose them. I find that making the rule and enforcing it takes a lot of energy, though – maybe telling them a story like your friend’s (or maybe my own story?) would encourage them to not risk looking like jerks.


  4. Siobhan it’s my post you are kindly referring to. The cell phone is an increasing powerful tool with huge potential in learning, if we want to use it. Increasingly here in UK we recognise that cell phones are part of the educational landscape and an approach is developing were we work with students to manage their devices effectively. So for example, students don’t take calls or sms their friends but they might take pictures for project work (if their cell) has that capacity.

    A colleague of mine told an interesting tale; a student was caught standing up in a classroom whilst the teacher spoke using his cell phone. He asked what he was doing and reminded that cell phone use was banned in the classroom. The pupil politely replied that he was videoing the teachers presentation, he found it very difficult to keep up with colleagues so the video notes were helpful in consolidating his studying. I hope this illustrates a positive way students can utilitse these devices.

    Also, I have worked with vocational students. Some of the ways I have been working with mobiles allows them to take learning material into the workplace. The advantage of this is it is portable and current since the notes can be updated easily and downloaded to the device.

    I really strongly believe that we need to be looking at the challenges of managing the devices rather than banning them.


  5. It’s a perspective that certainly merits some thought. That videorecording story is an interesting one – one of the motivations for banning cellphones is that videos of teachers, complete with derisive comments, have showed up on YouTube and in other public forums. I’ll keep these arguments in mind, but I’m not sure I’m ready to relinquish my cellphone ban entirely…


  6. Glad I’ve encouraged some thought 🙂 If you ever want to try out some mobile learning objects I’ve produced let me know they are in the public domain. I think if you decide to try out take it easy and work with students you trust. One advantage teachers I’ve worked with have found is if they themselves are familiar with the devices. If you know what your own phone can and can’t do

    Will you take you to some information I’ve put together on this subject.


  7. I think Stuart Smith was being played by his student– who videotapes their teacher (unless it is, as Siobhan mentioned, for youtube mockery/entertainment). Besides, they would need my permissions to videotape me and there is no way I would allow it. I would suggest that the student do the good old fashioned activity of paying attention in class. End of discussion.

    This is what works for me: on the first day of class, I give students a little talk that explains how they will succeed in ‘our’ learning environment. Student success is linked to mutual respect and good manners. During classroom time, we are here to learn. We can have a good time, but we are here to learn. We are not here to socialize.. I need their full attention to ensure their success and that means undivided attention and that means a device-free classroom. The first young adult whose cell phone rings in class is basically morbidly shamed by my fierce stare and by his peers’ rubber-necking. And after that, we are so busy writing and talking during class time (so that there’s no homework) that I don’t have a problem.


  8. I guess it’s possible the student was genuinely hoping the videotape would help him. I had a student who once asked if she could audiotape my lectures – I was flummoxed, and then saw no reason to say no. She was an excellent student who took a lot of notes but didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t think I’d ever agree to be videotaped, though.

    I think explaining the rules in terms of the maintenance of a positive learning envoironment is a good approach – I try to do that whenever I’m imposing restrictions or meting out baleful stares.


  9. As Stuart mentions, there are many positive ways in which mobile devices can be used to support learning. One of the analogies I make is to the cassette walkman; its invention as a consumer product had social effects (e.g. it was “cool” to own one), and disruptive effects (e.g. discretely listening to music during a class or lecture) very similar to those we see today in the mobile phone.

    However, the cassette walkman also started to become a useful learning tool: it was possible to provide learning materials for students to listen to, such as language learning tapes, “anytime, anywhere”; and the technology reached a further point where some cassette walkmans were able to record audio so that students could capture lectures for themselves and review or take detail notes on them later.

    We will almost certainly see the same trends emerging with the use of mobile phones in education. Just as cassette walkmans did nopt become a ubiquitous learning tool, and just as computers are not used in every classroom, so too we should not expect to see mobile phones becoming a “one size fits all” device for every educational setting.

    However, they do have some very useful features which can present exciting learning opportunities, *if* teachers are open-minded enough to see past the disruptive aspects of the technology.

    It might be as simple as providing audio recordings of lectures, audio-books, or language conversations on the web for students to download and study. Audio recordings can be saved to mp3 players, mobile phones, personal computers, laptops, or burnt to audio CDs for listening to in the car. Downloadable MP3 files are thus a very flexible way to enable particular kinds of learning resources for mobile use. Or perhaps a downloadable image of the Periodic Table might serve as a useful, portable reference for students?

    It’s also possible to go a step further, and use mobile devices as a means for students to not just reference materials you provide for them, but to create their own learning materials. For example, I recently took a photo of a bus map for my local area, so that I could have a copy for reference wherever I might happen to be around town. I also study dance, and I use the video function on my phone to record dance moves to that I can practice them in my own time. One teacher I work with recently came up with the idea of having some of her students use the camera function on their mobiles to take pictures of examples of effective advertising to share and analyse in class.

    And with the support of infrastructure (e.g. wireless networking) and some technical knowledge, even more exciting and interesting activities using mobile devices can be deployed. For more information on the use of mobile device in education, you might be interested in my blog on mobile learning, at

    While my blog focusses on mobile learning, I’m always aware that it’s not a “silver bullet,” but rather just another tool in a savvy educator’s kit that can, in some cases, make learning more engaging and effective for our students.


  10. SE I think you are picturing as more naive than I am, not all students want to disrupt, this particular student had learning difficulties and recording is a known method to assist with this disadvantage. Now you also refer to Intellectual Property Rights in that a student would have to have your permission to film you. In the UK that is broadly speaking true as well but would be dependent on the educators term of contract. However, I never been in a situation where copyright has been explained to schoolchildren in this context, perhaps it should. I also think you miss the point entirely in that the student was taking learning into their hands. I have spoken to several educators who feel (rightly or wrongly) that their role as ‘Gatekeeper’ is undermined by the use of portable technologies with access to the wider Information Super Highway. I would challenge that view, which does seem echoed here an suggest that the Gatekeeper role is changing and becoming one of facilitator. Whereby we teach students how to manage their technology and discern sources of information.

    The excellent Stephen Heppell gives an example which reminds me of SE comments but it was about computers in the classroom in the late 1970s or early 80s. An educator refused any access to the technology because it disrupted his perception of how the classroom should be, so it never got used by his students. I think to most educators that would hopefully seem a poor approach by todays thinking I think that will also be the case with portable devices in the future. Of course we will make mistakes along the way but the genie is out of the bottle, already in the UK we have students making very discriminating choices about which institutions they want to attend and often it is those that offer flexibility in learning and access to technology so they can leave with a competitive edge. Mobile learning neatly wraps those two desires together.


  11. In Australia there are schools implementing policies that that states mobile phones, PDAs and iPods are not to be seen or heard – students are not to bring them to school. Similarly they are restricting sites on the Internet that students can access. We should be educating our children on appropriate use of these technologies rather than banning them. Though this is easy for me to say as I work in vocational education and training – and I do not restrict their access to their mobile devices.



  12. My feeling for this thread overall is that there are ways to make use of any technology in the classroom; my question is always whether the technology enhances the learning process or is just a gimmick. As I mentioned in a comment on another site

    for me, a piece of chalk is sufficient almost all the time. People like playing with toys, but they also like talking (and some even like writing.) I never bring any technical device into the classroom (I don’t even use PowerPoint) unless it accomplishes something that I can’t accomplish without it.


  13. Siobhan said:”I never bring any technical device into the classroom (I don’t even use PowerPoint) unless it accomplishes something that I can’t accomplish without it.”

    This is a pretty good principle Siobhan. I may well quote you. 🙂

    What may, however, decide the difference between something that makes it past this filter, and something which does not, is the teacher’s own understanding of the potential idea, technique, or technology.

    Many of the benefits of mobile technologies, for example, may be overlooked by a teacher who does not understand the uses of mobile phones because they have not yet developed the level of fluency and competence that their students have. Whereas a student may be very comfortable with sideloading files or podcasts to their cellphone for later reference, a teacher may see this as being a superfluous distraction rather than a potential learning strategy.

    You also say, and I agree, that “People like playing with toys, but they also like talking (and some even like writing.)” I would suggest that mobile phones are tools that have been designed to enable conversation and discussion; and increasingly, are becoming tools for content creation (not just writing, but photography, videography, and audio recording.) The use of mobile devices need not preclude human interaction and creativity.

    Indeed, in some of my workshops, I divide participants into groups; team members can then “pool” their resources and mobile tools to achieve their tasks, and come up with their own, creative ways to share information and complete their objectives.


  14. You’ve got me there. I don’t own a cellphone and never have, and I explain to students, when I tell them that I will confiscate their phones, that this is in part the basis of my prejudice.

    Becoming more technologically savvy can definitely open teachers’ minds to the uses for any kind of device in the classroom. Since I became a blogger, for example, I am much more interested in the uses of blogs as learning tools…

    Thanks again for your comments, Leonard. The world of classroom technology is definitely one I need to become more comfortable in.


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