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A Losing Battle: Schools Resist Mobile Technology

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Public schools across America are fighting a battle they can’t win; schools are taking aggressive 1970623171_cb69a0e14aapproaches and adopting strict discipline policies regarding the student use of mobile technology.  Walk through any study hall in an American public school and you will find students texting in their pockets and listening to iPods through their sleeves.  Although most schools prohibit students from using personal electronics, students are coming up with creative ways to bring technology into the classroom whether the teacher knows it or not.  Aside from the lack of funds, here are a few reasons why schools do not allow students to be technologically enabled.

Cheating

Ask any teacher, instructor, or professor and they will tell you that cheating is a real and growing problem among students at all levels.  It used to be that students would meet before a class to share or copy answers, write a few notes on the bottom of their shoe, or steal an answer with a quick glance.  Mobile technology such as the use of cell phones and laptop computers among students has greatly changed the realm of cheating.  Because of the role technology plays in the cheating process, teachers and administrators have been reluctant to freely permit these devices in the classroom.  Students have been caught using camera phones to send test questions via MMS, hack into the schools Wi-Fi to change grades, and share answers via IM.  Because of these issues, schools have largely been unable to come up with a way to control student use of these devices.

Viruses, videos, & questionable content

Another staunch reason why schools are strict with mobile technology is the inability to supervise students at all times.  Although filtering software is in place, students often find ways to circumvent restrictions.  While the Internet contains a wealth of valuable knowledge, it also contains a wealth of objectionable content that many parents would not approve.  Because of this, many schools place a permanent block on various sites or specific types of websites.  For example, many schools block all blogs regardless of their content.  Sites with swear words or inappropriate school language is automatically blocked.  I remember having a student in class who couldn’t look up card tricks for a speech because cards were associated with gambling, an inappropriate keyword.

Schools often do not allow students to use their own laptops or Tablet PCs because of extreme bandwidth use and the possibility for virus problems.  Much of the content students view on the Internet is bandwidth heavy.  Streaming music videos uses a lot of resources, and allowing student computers on the school network heightens the risk of potential virus infections.

Safety

Unfortunately, there have recently been too many school shootings to mention.  Many schools are reluctant to allow students free reign with mobile technology because of the security threat posed.  Administrators and law enforcement worry that the use of mobile technology allows disturbed or angry students to more easily plot and coordinate destructive attacks.  While there may be credence to this argument, it could also be argued that students should have access to technology in order to protect themselves in such events.  Many of the situations where I’ve confronted students about texting in school was because they received a text message from their parents.  Many parents that I’ve spoken to want their children to have a cell phone with them in order to plan pickup times or even just to check in and see how the day is going.

Students will use technology whether they are permitted or not.

The reasons why schools are resistant to student use of mobile technology are real, however the future is requiring that students and teachers to be technologically empowered.  Teachers are expected to compete with instant gratification, MTV, mp3s, DVDs, and video games.  Using the strengths of technology helps students gain knowledge and deeper understanding of the issues presented in class.  Stories or articles read in books come to life with a tour via Google Earth, a Web Quest, Power Point presentation, or a collaborative classroom Wiki.  The benefits of using technology far outweigh the potential risks.  The bottom line comes down to relying on sophisticated filtering software, and professional educators that allow students to use technology in the educational process.  Teachers should be trusted to monitor students when in the classroom.  If students are expected to achieve at higher levels, teachers and students need the tools necessary to get the job done.

Schools need to embrace these devices and use their strengths to engage students, strengthen learning, and improve test scores.  There is hardly a profession today that does not rely on some interaction with technology.  Whether they are allowed to or not, students will ultimately continue to text, IM, and listen to their mp3 players. 

Are you a student or educator at a school that embraces mobile technology, or have you been denied the use of a mobile device at a school?  Share your experiences in the comments.

Photo credit: Cloned Milkman (flickr cc)

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