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.
The Policy and Procedure
Writing a policy to ban devices is not easy. The task seems easy, but if the policy is to be enforceable, then it has to be well thought out. Whenever anything is taken away, a negative impact occurs somewhere else.
The policy itself is simple, “No use of mobile phones on campus during academic hours.”
The policy must be simple. I often fall into the trap of making options, but options are difficult to manage. Options are difficult to explain. Options are difficult to translate to students if they are not native English language speakers.
The policy should be followed by a positive exception. In other words, “When and where can students use their devices ? ” This was clearly defined, so that students and parents could plan on a regular communication pattern after academic hours, but before study hall (remember most of these are boarding students).
Finally, the consequences have to be mapped out clearly. With any set of consequences a negative impact can occur to someone, or some place, if policies are planned haphazardly.
The school found two locations with staff who were already managing student discipline. This created a distributed and nominal impact on those people working in the offices. There was no additional staff or equipment required to implement the policy.
The consequences created by the policy writing team were clear and strict:
- For the 1st offense, your phone will be confiscated and withheld until the conclusion of the following academic day. This will be logged on PowerSchool for your parents and advisor to see.
- For the 2nd offense, your phone will be confiscated for 3 days, a call will go home to your parents, and the incident will be logged into PowerSchool.
- For a 3rd offense, your phone will be taken for an entire week, your parents will be called, and the phone will need to be picked up and collected by your parents in person.
So far nothing. I wanted to have some type of amazing story to tell, but nothing bad has happened. I have asked around 60 students how they are doing without their devices.
They have all said that it is not a big deal for them, they have a time to use them, and they do not want any instances logged into PowerSchool for their parents to read.
In addition, the number of devices confiscated is actually lower than it was before the policy. We still have some classes using mobile phones as cameras everyday, but outside of those classes, I have not see any students breaking the rules.
Of course, they are breaking the rules sometimes, but not lunch. Not at assembly. And not during those other daily opportunities where students meet in groups and socialize.
A week ago I walked into assembly, and students were playing music, laughing, and talking. It was loud, and I was extremely pleased.