What I really think about classroom tech
Tom Bennett reflects on the Great Tech Debate of 2015
This may shock you, but I dont think mobile phones should be banned from school. Or iPads from the classroom. It wont shock you if you have the wit to read entire articles rather than headlines, or the wisdom to triangulate your sources before swallowing a story entire. Ive had a merry few days wrestling like The Rock with incensed people on social media who appear to think my ideal classroom is a stool, some sand and a stick. I dont. Heres what I think, for future reference, and I might just link back to this to save me a bit of time next time the digital posse feel like a bit of exercise:
1.Smartphones can be extraordinarily distracting for students, as can any device that supports social media, music, games, film, surfing, etc. Its hard enough to get kids to focus without putting a distraction in front of them. So, unless theres a very good reason to have them out, I recommend a school policy that keeps them in their holsters until you really need them.
2.That isnt a ban, despite the ambitions of reductivists everywhere hungry for a headline or clickbait.
3.On that basis, I think the default should be, as with any potential distraction in the classroom, not to allow them until careful consideration has taken place of how they impact the learning. If the students are extremely good at focussing or self-restraint, then by all means allow them the freedom to have them out, or use them whenever. But that decision must be a conscious one to allow, not an unconscious one to forget to forbid.
4I dont think thats very controversial.
5.When using tech in the classroom, consider why tech is being used. Is there a low-tech alternative? Is the tech an important tool or is it merely a novelty. Asking pupils to write a blog for example; fine, but could the aims of the task be met as easily by simply setting an essay?
6.The internet is sometimes dark and full of terrors. We have a duty to protect children from accessing potentially harmful material, so I recommend, as a child protection issue, monitoring and carefully prescribing the areas they are allowed to visit. Maybe they look at Brazzers and horror.com at home. Our concern is what they do with us.
7.The educational benefits of integrating tech must always be weighed up against any potential drawbacks it might have, as with any intervention.
8.Some teachers love using tech with their classes. Great. If they can do so and genuinely see a general benefit that cant be obtained in a lo-fi way, then good. But if the tech gets in the way of the learning, or it isnt a good fit between teacher, topic and student, then the school shouldnt impose this. Of course there are many useful things that tech can do, and the problem with people sniffing a ban tech story is that they immediately reach for their anecdotes about how tech works for them. Thats not the point. The danger is when people believe that learning is universally and irrefutably improved by moving everything onto iPads or similar platforms. There isnt any evidence to support the claim that children learn better using iPads than without, or similar. There are lots of interesting case studies, and some small experiments that certainly suggest further investigation. But centuries of children have learned pretty well without such things, so consider low-tech to be the default and high-tech the propositional claim to be proven.
9.There is, however, a good deal of evidence to suggest that many pupils find smartphones, etc, distracting, and that impedes their focus, with a knock on effect of lost time in the class. Your class, your school, might be impeccably behaved. Im delighted for you, you can do what you like. Many schools arent, and should consider restricting access to devices. A 2015 LSE project, for example, found that this deficit was quantifiable, especially for the less-able.
10.A final point about culture. Im glued to my phone. I wake up and reach for it. I check it every five minutes. At least I had the benefit of growing up without that addiction. And, having given up fags a few years ago, I can confidently say that smartphones are addictive, and if we care about children at all, we should help create spaces for them where they aren't allowed to constantly chew on the thin black plastic teat of their iPhones. We need to help them detox a little. Self