During the first few weeks before my new campus opened, many people wanted to know what the mobile phone policy would be for students, especially those students living on-campus.
A decision was made to allow teachers to set their classroom norms, and to give the students an opportunity to use technology responsibly. This very open policy would be applied, and results would be evaluated.
The first month of school yielded some very interesting results, and eventually lead to a big change not only in policy, but also in campus culture.
The Real Issue
The assumption most adults and educators make is that students will waste time while using their devices in class.
The truth is that students using mobile phones outside of the classroom, is in fact a severe waste of time compared to the time lost in the classroom. Policies focusing on controlling students and preventing them from enjoying some form of entertainment while in class, are missing the core issue(s).
The real issue with students who are engaged in very high levels of screen-time, is that the engagement negates their time to socialize. The device, ironically, pushes them further apart from one another, even if they are using the device to communicate.
Classroom use of devices can be very beneficial. Teachers can task students and keep them working and interacting, while socializing.
During the first month of observation, when left to their own prerogative, students in social situations would default to the use of social media apps and free or freemium games instead of talking to one another.
The students were not engaged in deep discussions, academic information exchange, or even conversations about making plans for their weekends. They were just engaged in activities that had a short and very shallow feedback loop.
My personal observations were combined with others, and everyone agreed that we did not want a campus culture that encouraged students to not socialize; to sit alone and stare at a screen; and that seemed to push curiosity to the floor.