Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Smart Phones + Students = Seriously?

I know I'm supposed to be taking myself less seriously, but lately, I've identified with some serious characters, people like Carrie Mathison in the first season of Homeland (and Detective Rust Cohle in the first season of True Detective and any other rather serious person who thinks they see reason and patterns where the rest of the world sees none). I've had this weird anxiety, like I was screaming at the top of my lungs and no one was paying attention. And this made me feel isolated and a little crazy. But then I some writing on the wall (or more precisely, the writing on the screens in my high school cafeteria) and this made me feel a lot better.

To explain: the high school where I work has adopted a BYOD policy . . . Bring Your Own Device. What this means is that kids are allowed to bring their iPhones to school, use them in the hallways (one earbud policy if they are listening to music, and they are NOT allowed snap pictures or take video) and utilize them in class if the teacher allows it.  I believe this policy is complete lunacy. Forbidding a kid to take pictures with a cell-phone is like forbidding a dog to wag its tail. And once you've taken that thing out in the hallway, and started texting and swiping and snapchatting and instagramming, it's hard to stop cold turkey, especially when the alternative is a lecture on the Krebs Cycle.

I don't have a smartphone, but this is mainly because I am cheap. And I hate looking at tiny screens, and I don't want to be distracted by the internet more than I already am. And, as a teacher, I think I'm inherently biased and have a predisposition to be annoyed by them, because I have monitor student's behavior with them. So my reasons for hating cell-phones are more visceral than anything. But I wanted to know if there was any actual research on the detrimental nature of smartphones, so I did some reading. Apparently, I'm not the only person who thinks kids shouldn't be in possession of a miniature game-device, social networking conduit, picture slideshow, camera, audio recorder, and a general boredom panacea when they are attending school.

The research is out there, which makes it even more impressive how many kids possess one of these objects. I'm not sure if parents are clueless, or if they just eventually cave to the pressure.



Anyway, for all you parents on the fence, there is some solid research that schools that enact a hard ban on cell-phones see an increase in test scores. Scores rose over 6 percent for all students, but the biggest increase was in underachieving students. This makes sense, because these kids are often the most distracted, and so sending them to class with a smartphone is a recipe for attention deficit disaster.

Plus, like I said, the writing was on the wall. Or it least it was at our last faculty meeting. We were in groups, and each group leader had a Chromebook. We were supposed to be commenting on the new technology pilot, and these comments were being transferred to a scrolling message board which was projected to all the flat screen TV sets on the walls of the cafeteria. The thrust of the comments were NOT about the technology pilot, and instead the board became a scrolling rant about how hard it is to police cell-phone activity and how annoyed teachers are with students and cell-phones. The principal had to blow his whistle and remind us what the purpose of the activity was The irony of him blowing a primitive analog device in order to reign in out-of-control technology was not lost on me. I really started to think about the issue, and the result of that is that half-baked post. I'm certainly not done ruminating, but this is a start.



Most schools are doing the opposite of ruminating about this issue. They insist that "the genie is out of the bottle" and we have to move forward. They are plunging straight into the future, research be damned. My wife's district is trying to go completely digital. I think this is lunacy as well, and there's research to back this opinion. Listen to the recent Freakonomics podcast on the cognitive value of taking handwritten notes if you need some proof. My school is excited about embracing smartphone apps such as Kahoot and Socrative. My philosophy is the same as Neil Postman's. You'd better evaluate every piece of technology before you adopt it, because technology is not neutral. If it's not markedly better than a simpler, more elegant way, then why use it? If paper works, if raising your hand works, if showing a video clip and asking some questions works, then why replace it with something that makes kids stare at tiny screens, something more difficult to monitor that leaves the possibility of a million distractions? 

Anyway, I think people twenty years from now are going to look back at this period of obsessive and ubiquitous smartphone use with horror and nostalgia, the same way we look back at people smoking cigarettes on airplanes. It will seem surreal and utterly fantastic that we thought kids could and should stare at these little screens 24/7 and this would be a healthy and fruitful way to live.

In some ways, a smartphone is very much like a cigarette . . . it's habit forming and addictive, it delivers a little boost of dopamine, it's portable, using it costs quite a bit of money in the long run, and it enjoys varying degrees of social acceptability. I have enacted a hard cell-phone ban in my class, and I told the kids that if I see one, I'm treating it the same way I would a treat pack of cigarettes: I'm confiscating it. And if you're using one while I'm teaching, then I'm treating you like you just lit up in class: it's a big rude FU.

I think folks in the future are going to just laugh and laugh when they fondly remember how we sent our kids to school (in cars that required human drivers!) in possession of these incredibly distracting devices. I might be wrong, and we'll have to wait and see, but until then, I'm not allowing my children to have smartphones, and I'm not allowing my students use them. I can only do this on my watch, and it might only be one finger in the dike, and perhaps I'll cave when my kids become teenagers, but who knows, I might be right . . . and I'm absolutely certain Gheorghe: The Blog will still be around twenty years from now and I'll be able to link back to this post and say: "I told you so."

24 comments:

rob said...

i'm going to require my kids to read this, and then do a blog report. smart phones are the single biggest (and entirely self-inflicted) parenting challenge my wife and i face.

and i completely agree with dave's notion that we'll look back 20 years from now and wonder what the fuck was wrong with us. president trump will probably do the same.

mr kq said...

We've punted on the issue. We're worthless and weak. We'll drop down and give you 20. Actually KQ will give you 20, I'll give you 9 or 10.

zman said...

Whither John Nash? John Stewart (I think) has a bit about how great paper is and if it were first invented today we'd be writing about how superior it is to electronic media because you can fold it, get it wet, throw it out, bring it into the bathroom, mark it up, use it on a plane during takeoff and landing, etc.

When I was in law school I made a point of never logging my computer into the wifi during class. Everyone around me was IM'ing and browsing and gaming and emailing and goofing off while I was listening and I honestly think it helped me do better than they did. Having a smartphone in class is probably an even worse distraction.

Dave said...

how did kids get the upper hand on this one? i'm going to hold strong as long as i can . . . and some kids don't have a problem with it, like zman, but they are the exception-- to most students it's too attractive a distraction. worst case scenario: girl with an older boyfriend, who has already graduated and is texting her all day.

zman said...

I was 29 when I started law school and if I didn't get good grades my career prospects were poor to very poor, so I was motivated to minimize my distractions. If I had in-class internet access in high school or college I would've failed out.

Danimal said...

Tr.....Dallas or recs? Staying just a few minutes outside of downtown on nw side....may venture downtown.

Squeaky said...

Hopefully it will be years before my son will get his hands on a smartphone of his own. He already was trying to wiggle into getting one by saving his allowance money. That dream ended for him when I told him they cost as much as one and half Lego Death Stars. Is it bad my son understands the monetary value of something when compared to Lego set costs?

mayhugh said...

Interesting thoughts. If the studies are true, I'm also really concerned. We should be working harder to narrow the gap between bad students and the rest of the class, not providing a means to broaden it.

Has any jurisdiction explored the legality of requiring that students who bring smartphones on campus be subjected to monitoring? I'm guessing participating in BYOD would go way down if kids knew/thought their texts, pictures and/or browsing history might be read by adults in positions of authority.

Danimal said...

Dallas recs...not dallas or recs.

Dave said...

if they are using the school wifi, they could be monitored, i suppose. if they are using satellite data, that might be tough. i envision a future where you stick the thing in a little locker in the morning, take it out at lunch or the end of the day, and that's that. there have already been issues with kids taking video of fights, etc. this can't work in the long run . . .

Danimal said...

our oldest is only 7 so we haven't gone to battle yet, though he has asked. many of his peers don't have phones but do own i-touches. our stance is, no fucking way. my wife says he'll be 15 or 16 before he gets one. though i'm not as confident in that happening i think we'll be able to hold out 'til the early teens. if my spouse was more like me, i'd admit the stance a bit naive. but she's a ballbuster (teacher by trade).

Danimal said...

seeing 1st & 2nd graders turn in written reports and projects using the computer is kind of a headscratcher. we make our kid write everything and turn it in as such even though it looks like shit compared to his peers. how long is it going to be before our children don't know how to write a sentence out in cursive? a decade?

zman said...

When I was 8 or 9 I asked zmom when I would allowed to go trick or treating by myself at night and she said "When your wife says you can" and that's my stance on cell phones for kids.

mr kq said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here - there's no fooking way you lads hold out as long as you think you will (on the phone thing too).

I'll hang up and check back in 6 to 9 years.

Danimal said...

i tend to agree with you, at least with our son. at least now, he is an honest & trustworthy kid, mature, yada yada. his sisters....

Whitney said...

Ween is back, for those not in the know. And playing Lockn 2016 adjacent to Phish. Book it.

Whitney said...

Dave, look at the setlists from their first three shows back in action. Mighty strong.

Dave said...

awesome sound! dr rock!and lots of other crowd favorites. i'm in.

TR said...

Sorry Danimal! I flew back from KC this morning and have not surfed the web much since landing.

Katy Trail Ice House in uptown is always a winner. If you want steak, nearby Nick & Sam's offers fantastic beef served by stripperiffic waitresses.

McKinney Ave is fun to wander down and find places to drink. If you want high price hookers to hit on you, grab a drink at the Ritz Carlton bar. But be prepared to feel inferior if you roll in there in a car that costs less than $69K.

These spots are all in the uptown area. Downtown Dallas sucks.

TR said...

Dave's post is tremendous and thought-provoking. I'm still a Luddite who takes notes w/ pen and paper. It helped me when I went for my "CFA" certification in my 20's (a 3-yr grind), and it helped me when I was in my late 20's and early 30's when I was getting my MBA.

I strenuously tell the juniors in my office to use pen and paper and they look at me like I'm weird.

zman said...

There's myriad reasons why they look at you like that beyond your pen and paper fetish.

Mark said...

A true Roy Williams classic tonight in Chapel Hill.

Shlara said...

I endorse this post.
I don't have kids, but if i did, I would be anti-smart phone and would fully expect that to come with "I hate you mom" statements.

Also--saw this today--it empahsizes the point that us "pen and paper" people are REALLY out of touch:
https://newrepublic.com/article/129002/secret-lives-tumblr-teens?mod=e2this&utm_source=This+nightly&utm_campaign=7956ecde22-Feb+17+Nightly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4b29b52ce6-7956ecde22-248623429

Seo Expert said...

frequently. I am quite sure I’ll learn many new stuff right here! SEO Services