PedagogyPop QuizSecondary EducationTechnology

Pop Quiz: Call Me Maybe (Except Not When You’re In Class)

Earlier this week Dan posted a Pop Quiz about the use of TV and video in the classroom. His questions made me think about how the use of technology has been developing in my own school, particularly with regards to the use of mobile phones and tablets. I don’t know what it’s like for other educators out there, but in my school it seems like mobile phones are often viewed as horrors sent from north of the Wall to deaden the hearts and minds of our children. Or something.


We have very, very strict school rules about pupils who try to use their phones in class. We’re supposed to confiscate the phone from any pupil we catch in class and send it straight to the office to be picked up at the end of the day. Given that pretty much every one of our roughly 1300 pupils carries a phone, you can probably imagine how big an issue this is.  In fact, the other week our head teacher sent out a very sternly-worded email to remind us of this policy; he felt that teachers hadn’t been sticking to it.


This policy troubles me. I understand why we have it and I know that pupils can very often become completely distracted by their phone’s warm glowing warming glow, but I really really hate it when I have to confiscate one. I hate the physical intrusion of taking the device, I hate the very high possibility of a serious confrontation developing, and I hate the assumption that a mobile phone can only ever act as a hindrance in a teaching environment.


Having said that, it does seem as if change might be afoot. Our I.T. department recently approached a few teachers (myself included) to ask us to help with an experiment. Our own personal phones were given access to the school wi-fi network (which is in itself very new; kicking and screaming into the future indeed) and we were also asked to nominate one trustworthy class each to be granted the same permissions. I now have a class of seniors who all have permission to use their phones and tablets in class.


It’s been wonderful.


They can email work submissions to me, search for sources for discursive and persuasive writing tasks, take class notes straight onto their phones, and lots more. I can share lesson plans with them virtually and can allow them access to their own copies of any lesson presentations or documents I might need to use.


These are our top senior pupils, however. I’m very much aware of how different an experience I might have had if I had chosen a class of more “energetic” 14 year olds. Still, I’m glad that at least one part of our school is beginning to shake off its somewhat irrational fear of anything with a shiny screen. I hope that we can manage to make this pilot work and that it will, with appropriate structure and guidance, filter down through the rest of the school.


What are your views on the use of mobile phones and other such technology in the classroom?


Does your educational establishment (if you work or learn in one) have a similar policy to that of my school?


What other positive applications of such technology could you see for the modern classroom?


The Pop Quiz is a question for you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Featured Image Credit: JonJon2k8

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RR: 19 May 2013



Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.


  1. May 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm —

    I like the idea that you are making your students use their smartphones for classwork, while in class. Kids want to use current technology, regardless if there is a policy or lesson plan involved. In my children’s school, the policy is that phones of any kind are to be kept in lockers.

  2. May 17, 2013 at 4:49 pm —

    I completely agree. Students want to use these things and it’s getting increasingly difficult to stop them. I really do think that the educational use of smartphones and tablets is going to become more and more common in lots of schools over the next few years. Our policy is very similar to your children’s school’s in that phones are supposed to be kept in lockers. Most kids ignore that rule and keep their phone on them, even if they don’t have any intention of using them in class.

    • May 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm —

      The trouble with this kind of use, as I see it, is when students don’t have the devices in question for some reason or another. We are then faced with either: a) a two-tiered system in which students with access to expensive tech get extra benefits, or b) the school has to spend a lot of money providing everyone with the tool in question, often at a high replace rate.

      There are, of course, schools that opt for b) and have some success. But it does open the door to a lot of problems, including some creepy shit.

      I’m in a bit of a different situation with my students since I teach at a university, but I have a few of different approaches depending on the kind of class I’m teaching. In big theatre lectures there is absolutely no way to keep them from tuning out and watching youtube videos, so I don’t even bother unless there is a clear distraction. In smaller seminar-style classes students can normally be trusted to use their tech responsibly (since there’s nowhere to hide), plus most of them will have their notes and readings on them, so again no trouble. But there is simply no use for a phone or a laptop in a musicianship class so I have a fairly strict no-screens policy there.

      • May 20, 2013 at 8:49 pm —

        I’d hazard it might also be possible to do a hybrid of a) and b): Offer a sufficiently-good phone/tablet for students that don’t have one of their own, but students who do have one of their own are welcome to use it instead. This would cut down on costs without disadvantaging students who don’t have their own phone/tablet. There might be other problems I haven’t thought of, though.

  3. May 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm —

    I do not allow any tech in my classes. No cellphones, no laptops, no kindles, no iPads. You come to class ready to have a discussion and be engaged, and if you need to take notes you use a pen and paper.

    It’s one of my pet peeves (the other is plagiarism), and I boot students from class if I catch them with phones out for any reason. And for each time they’re kicked out, it’s -5 points (1/2 letter grade) from their final average.

    • May 18, 2013 at 9:42 am —


    • May 19, 2013 at 11:29 am —

      I had a professor in law school who didn’t allow any laptops in class. Which, in law school, is a total anathema. She didn’t even like us to take notes in class, actually. She just put her notes online after class and forced us to have a discussion in class.

      After my first year I stopped taking notes on a laptop most of the time. It was just too distracting. Why would I want to learn about the hearsay rule when I could be on Facebook complaining about how boring and complicated the hearsay rule is? (Also, please don’t ask me about the hearsay rule.)

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