The Current

Teachers debate the merits of smartphones in classrooms

Some teachers want to ban smartphones in class, others want to use them. Are cellphones a distraction or a device to help students learn? The Current convenes a panel of teachers to debate the issue.
Most Canadian school boards allow cellphones in high school classrooms with some restrictions. The Toronto District School Board which had banned phones have reversed its policy. (Intel Free Press/flickr cc)

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Many Canadian school boards allow phones in high school classrooms, albeit with some restrictions that are left to the teacher to decide and police. 

Paddy McCallum, a media and literature teacher at Chatelech Community Secondary School in Sechelt, B.C., has many different approaches to dealing with smartphones in class.

"We set rules at the beginning of the class beginning of the semester as to how the class the phones and technology will be used, and whether or not we even have any use for it, McCallum tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"But I also teach media rich courses like photography and video where the kids do use their phones to film, edit, and upload to our website, and actually do a lot of creative work with the phones."

Two years ago, headmaster Brayden Plummer says his school, Pretty River Academy — a private school in Collingwood, Ont. — banned cellphones from classrooms unless it had a direct educational impact.

"It's been quite positive. We get a lot more impact out of our lessons when kids aren't being distracted," Plummer tells Tremonti.

Tool or toy? Learning device or distraction? Should smartphones be used in class? (Getty Images)

"By limiting how technology is used in the classroom keeps kids present in a discussion where they're learning from each other and fostering that on."

Sometimes the distraction comes from a parent calling their child during school hours. English and drama teacher Michelle Muzzi at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute says she's answered her student's ringing phones only to hear an embarrassed parent on the other end.

"I just think that [parents] have the ability to communicate with their child at their fingertips as do the children to communicate with their friends... this is just part of the society now," says Muzzi.

McCallum agrees and says parents expect their child to be available 24/7. In his experience, parents don't support the ban.

"That we're simply taking the phone away, or denying the child access to the phone has caused a pretty strong reaction from parents."

According to Plummer, the key to successfully dealing with this issue is schools being consistent enforcing their policies. He believes not having a phone in his small school has fostered a mindful presence in class.

"Technology is a huge influence on children's lives no matter where they're from, but there's a life outside of that… be present with the people that are right beside you," says Plummer.

"I think that's something that is becoming lost."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, John Chipman and Peggy Lam.