Banning Mobile Phones in the Classroom is Not the Answer Says New Report

April 19, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Research & Studies, Students, Technology Integration

Should schools allow mobile phones and social media in the classroom? The debate is heated on this question, often based on fear and misinformation. The Consortium on School Networking (CoSN) and 13 leading education associations, including Common Sense Media, are stepping in to help education decision makers create and revise policies around mobile and social media use in schools.

In 2000, when the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was first introduced, the major concern of legislators and education policymakers was to protect children from viewing inappropriate material on the Internet. More than a decade later, the nature and scope of digital media differ sharply. The report, “Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media,” provides resources and suggestions to help align education legislation with recent technology advancements.

Emerging digital technologies are undoubtedly here to stay and, when used properly, can offer substantial educational benefits – but benefits that also come with risks. Increasing incidents of cyberbullying, specifically via social media platforms, have prompted a number of state legislatures and boards of education to limit the use of social media and mobile technologies in schools. The Consortium for School Networking wants policymakers instead to consider the consequences to learning that such restrictions could create.

According to CoSN, one of the most powerful reasons to use social media and mobile devices in the classroom is to allow students to learn about their use in a supervised environment that emphasizes the development of attitudes and skills that will help them be safe outside of school. This is certainly music to our ears here at Common Sense Media. As Chief Education and Strategy Officer Linda Burch said in a press release for the report:

At Common Sense Media, we recognize how social media is changing and enriching the way kids learn and discover the world around them – both in and out of the classroom. We also know how important it is for districts to develop comprehensive policies to ensure that students can harness technology to its full potential, which includes arming students with the right skills and knowledge to use social media safely and responsibly.

The report aims to advance thinking and the approach to dealing with emerging technologies and offers a summary of the common issues surrounding educational uses of social media, as well as recommendations for effective responsible use policies.

The report makes five critical observations for state and local decision makers as they consider social media and mobile technology policy in K–12 schools.

  1. Kids are going to use social media and mobile devices outside of school, regardless of whether they’re taught how to use them responsibly inside the classroom. However, more schools are beginning to change their policies to incorporate these technologies into their curriculums, rather than banning them entirely
  2. There are substantial educational benefits of using mobile devices and social media in the classroom.
  3. Federal, state and local school policies must be updated in order to respond to current realities.
  4. These laws must address abuses such as sexting and cyberbullying, and mandate schools to provide guidance on what information is OK to share online.
  5. New policies on social media and mobile technologies must be equitable and impartial to all parties.

The report also offers four key suggestions to address these observations, with one fundamental message – banning is not the answer. It urges schools to weigh the negative effects of banning mobile technologies against the advantages they could bring into the classroom before making any decisions. “Many young people are already active digital consumers, but school is often the place where they learn to be critical, reflective and powerful digital citizens. But to do that, students and teachers need to be able to read, write, search, and collaborate with broad access to wide range of web 2.0 tools,” said National Writing Project National Programs and Site Development Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

The report urges educators to rethink and revise their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to better focus on today’s issues. In a recent Education Week commentary, CoSN’s Jim Bosco and Keith Krueger proposed school systems move beyond the traditional AUP approach – which has students and family members sign a form “accepting” certain rules, with little action required after that— to a “responsible-use policy” (RUP) that emphasizes education and treats the student as a person responsible for ethical and healthy use of the Internet and mobile devices. One example of a successful RUP is the "Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse in Virginia Public Schools" (pdf), which takes a proactive approach to preventing sexual misconduct and provides direct steps for students and educators to take – both online and in the classroom.

According to CoSN, 95 percent of all teens ages 12-17 are using the internet on a regular basis, 80 percent use social networking sites, and 75 percent have cell phones. These numbers requires a more universal action to integrate these technologies into the classroom in safe, responsible – yet effective and efficient – ways. “Making Progress” aims to help educators and legislators do just that. You can download the full report here

Photo by Wesley Fryer.