This is another loaded question, that countless educators have flip flopped on multiple times; at least I have. One day it feels like cell phones are a powerful learning tool that we know is going to be prevalent in real life. The next day it is a massive distraction that seems to be only good for impeding and getting in the way of learning. Reading this Guardian article from Australia, it looks like I am in good company – with some experts suggesting that cell phones are bad, with others suggesting that it would not be a good idea to disbar them from the classroom.
While I have found myself more situated to one side with most of our other debates, I find myself to be caught smack in the middle on this one. The reality is, cell phones are prevalent in our daily lives, so the argument that students ought to learn how to properly use the “tool” makes a considerable amount of sense. One of our roles as educators is to prepare students for their lives outside and beyond school – they will without a doubt end up using a cell phone at some point. My counter to this would be that cars are also a way of life in our society, and we know that the large majority of our students will end up owning and operating one someday, yet we don’t provide that tool or training for it until a person reaches the age of sixteen, as we have decided that age is the appropriate time for a person to “learn the rules of the road”. Perhaps we as a society, parents, and teachers should give pause to what the appropriate age is for cell phone use, and specifically cell phone use at school. We provide driver training to tenth graders, whereas we do not provide it to students in elementary school. As such, appropriate age considerations should be made. This article makes some interesting arguments in favour of allowing cell phones in school that range from saving the environment, promoting independence, cost savings, and teaching digital literacy. That said, while the arguments presented make sense and are likely to resonate with most individuals, they do not appear to be research based in nature. Similarly this article here from the British Journal of Education Technology provides a compelling case for banning mobile phones in the classroom, however, it is not research based either.
Like many things in education, I believe that the decision to ban cellphones in the classroom should be left up to the individual teacher and their professional judgement. There may be instances where it makes sense to ban the phones, and there may be circumstances where it makes sense to utilize them. This of course is not much different than most other things in education – we must trust that the teacher knows what works best for their individual teaching styles, assigned curriculum, and of course the needs of their students. A one size fits all approach is rarely useful or successful.