This Op-Ed was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Across the country, parents, administrators, and teachers are discussing how to best leverage mobile technology to benefit students. Today 88 percent of teens have access to a cell phone or smartphone. Naturally, students are bringing their phones to school.
As a result, educators are confronted with the challenge and opportunity of harnessing these pocket-sized devices to make a positive impact on student learning.
The near-ubiquity of mobile computing poses challenges in the classroom. But a recent report suggesting that mobile computing bans increase standardized test scores is misguided (tests are just one measure of learning) and fails to consider the creative strategies that thousands of savvy teachers in K-12 schools and colleges are using to improve student outcomes by integrating mobile computing in the classroom.
Technology will be an everyday part of our students' lives. School-wide bans on mobile phones do our students a disservice by failing to teach them responsible use and limiting their ability to innovate and create in the classroom.
As educators in both rural and suburban districts, we've seen the positive impacts of technology, including mobile devices, firsthand.
In Kerry's district in suburban Massachusetts, the school district is unable to provide each student with a laptop or tablet, making students' mobile phones a necessary tool. Her high school history students use their phones daily, along with a small number of devices supplied by the school.
Their notebooks are "paperless"--and can be accessed on their phones. Students can review their learning while in a dentist's waiting room or at home when the family computer is already monopolized. It also means their notes are in rich color and include high-definition historical images--something that a paper and pen simply can't provide. This level of detail and access would not be possible if their phones were banned in school.
Mobile phones are also a collaboration tool for students. Students can post ideas and media on a digital bulletin board, plan projects on a shared document, and create incredible media evidence, such as movie trailers, to demonstrate what they've learned.
Kerry's students use group messaging and video chats to schedule study groups and share resources. They can quickly check for assignments and grades she's posted on the class website. Without their phones, these collaborative learning experiences would happen less often and would be more difficult to manage.
Daisy leads a rural K-12 school in Arkansas where only 10 percent of homes have high-speed Internet access and 80 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. In her community, connectivity is as important as power lines. Before Daisy joined the school as principal in 2011, technology use was limited. The school lacked adequate devices, internet access, and training to effectively take advantage of 21st Century learning opportunities. Performance was poor--her school faced ongoing state sanctions due to low scores on literacy and mathematics assessments. Closure and takeover loomed.
But Daisy partnered with all school stakeholders (including students) to form a new vision that included an infusion of technology and new teaching pedagogy.
Daisy found, contrary to popular belief, that most of her low-income students actually had access to mobile devices (more than 75 percent of her seventh-12th-grade students). With proper training, and trusting relationships with adults, the students were able to utilize their mobile devices in a positive way.
As with any initiative, "Bring Your Own Device" programs are not challenge-free; but students are equipped to develop the skillset to deal with these new cyber issues, challenges they are bound to face in after school in college and work. What better place to prepare them for 21st Century challenges than within our schools?
Over the last four years, Daisy's school has gone from a failing school with little to no technology engagement to a top 10 percent school in Arkansas, and just received an "A" grade; the highest given in her state. Between 2010 and 2014, reading proficiency jumped from 59 percent to 79 percent and math proficiency went from 54 percent to 88 percent. All of this was accomplished while students were accessing their devices in the classrooms.
Today, successful technology integration enables her school to level the playing field--providing the same outstanding education to students in her poor, rural school that more affluent students in suburban areas often take for granted.
While the integration of mobile devices in our schools is never perfect, their presence has helped us achieve deeper levels of understanding, access to lesson-enhancing multimedia, and an increase in engagement from our students. The use of mobile devices have given us the chance to not only add an extra dimension to lesson plans, but to also teach valuable life skills that will serve our students well beyond their time in the classroom.
Daisy Dyer Duerr is a former principal in St. Paul, Ark. Kerry Gallagher is a technology integration specialist at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., former history teacher, and regulator contributor to EdSurge. Both are contributors to the Smarter Schools Project.
Editorial on 07/20/2015