British Columbia

Rules for smartphones in classrooms examined at BCTF workshop

Tool or toy? Learning device or distraction? It's a dilemma that many teachers have to face as an increasing number of students bring cellphones and other electronic devices to school.

B.C. teachers discuss merits of using smartphones and other devices in workshop this week

University students are distracted by their phones in class on average, 11 times a day (Getty Images)

Tool or toy? Learning device or distraction? It's a dilemma that many teachers have to face as an increasing number of students bring cellphones and other electronic devices to school.

This week the pro and cons on smartphones in class were debated at a workshop held at the B.C. Teachers' Federation Summer Leadership Conference in Kamloops.

Sechelt teacher Paddy McCallum — who co-facilitated the workshop — said the point of the discussion was to look at the spectrum of use.

Different approaches

"Blanket policies are not going to work, at the school level, at the district level, at the provincial level," he said.

"Those blanket policies can not cover all the variations, all the variables that come into play in classroom contexts. If you're a Math 10 teacher it could be an issue of distraction, so you may want to have very strong rules about when those phones are on and available, and when they're put away.

"If you're using them as part of your art class, or part of your media studies class, you're going to have a very different set of rules around their use. That's why the inquiry process that we're using in this workshop is so important; it allows teachers to dig into their own context and how they need to embed this in their practice."

He said that though teachers may have different rules, it need not be confusing for the students.

"Older students, particularly high schools students, understand this completely. They understand that the Math 10 teacher is going to have has a different set of requirements regarding this, than say their video production classroom. They get the difference."

Setting boundaries

McCallum said it comes down to communication.

"It's about having a conversation with the kids about the expectations that the teacher has for that classroom," he said.

"When I'm doing some direct teaching I need eyes at the front, I need eyes on me. Some teachers are for example having a break midway through an 80-minute class. For five or 10 minutes you can have a stretch, you can do some texting, you can call mom at home and have her pick you up."

Surrey elementary school teacher Sarah Dalzell, who co-facilitated the workshop, said she uses technology as a teaching tool in her classroom on a daily basis.

Since her class focuses on students that have learning disabilities specific to their reading, she uses tablets which can read aloud a selected portion of the text.

"For them using a device has really facilitated their learning, so a lot of the parents will come to me and say, 'Hey, I have this iPad, what kind of apps can I get to help my child at home?'"

Like McCallum, she agreed that boundaries need to be set at the beginning of class.

"Because we really set expectations of the class, my students are held accountable, and they recognize that being able to use the device — whether that's a cellphone or an iPad or a laptop, it's really there to facilitate their learning."

Dalzell said that other teachers in the workshop are all figuring out how to use these devices in the classroom, and to what extent.

"A lot of it is the unknown," she said.

"Technology is always changing, and social media is always changing, so how can we meet the needs of the students? Because that's a world that they've grown up in; that's the world that they know. For a lot of these kids they've always known technology."

To hear the full interview with Paddy McCallum click on the audio labelled: BCTF workshop on smartphones in class

To hear the full interview with Sarah Dalzell click on the audio labelled: Teachers' workshop on smartphones in class


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