What If those gadgets that students bring to class, the phones and tablets, were considered as encyclopedias, paper, and pens? Crazy, you say? May be or maybe not! This idea came to me in the middle of the night and woke me up. The next morning, this idea would not go away. I realized that I had spent a few years focusing more on controlling use and access rather than learning how to use these tools appropriately.
I have tried several ways to “manage” phone use in my class over the years. My strategies went from no use to modified use with permission, all with the same results. Students resisted restricted access to these devices and would go to any length, including expulsion to hold onto them. I even wanted to block signals altogether until I realized that, besides the legal issues, there might be unintended consequences that I could not predict.
I reflected on a book I read about leadership that described how it may be necessary to reframe ideas and assumptions about an organization in order to understand what was happening and to know what changes might work. So I slowly began to refocus and to reframe my assumptions about controlling and managing these devices. To my surprise, I found several benefits that enhanced learning in ways I could not have done a few years ago. In reality, these devices are 21st century versions of a dictionary, encyclopedia, pen, and pencil. I do not care if students doodle and I do not look at what they are writing on their papers. So, why should I be so focused on what is on the phone? The good news is that using phones and tablets in the classroom has many benefits.
1. Research- Classroom research, was the most important one for me. I stumbled on this when as a homework assignment, I asked that everyone be prepared for a discussion. Only two hands went up to confirm that they were prepared for the discussion. I quickly reframed the assignment from discussing the topic to researching and finding information to present the findings so that students could have a discussion at a later date.
2. Enhanced Student-Teacher Interaction and Instruction-As each group worked using their phones, I went around and listened to the conversations and answered their questions. I heard students asking good questions, dividing up work, deciding what was relevant to narrow their focus. Some found case studies or other examples of their topic. I was amazed that they pulled this off in the time allotted....