That viewpoint is similar to what Eric Williams, superintendent of the York County School Division in Virginia, believes. Dealing with mobile devices in the classroom, he says, is a classroom management issue.
“Teachers have always dealt with classroom management issues like off-task behavior, cheating, and inappropriate materials,” he says. Technology simply offers new versions of these same issues. “They exist separate from technology, and they exist with technology. It’s a challenge for teachers regardless of whether cell phones are allowed in the classroom or not.”
Tom Greaves, founder of education technology consulting firm The Greaves Group and co-author of a study called Project RED, a national effort to analyze what’s working in technology-rich schools, says there are two camps: advocates of “lock and block” solutions, who want to lock everything down and block all inappropriate content, and advocates of giving students some responsibility. The latter camp is gaining in popularity, largely because students will, eventually, have to learn how to use discretion and make smart decisions regarding their online use. Besides, says Greaves, “if a student has done his homework, is finished with what he needs to be doing, and is watching ESPN Sportscenter for five minutes, is that the end of the world? I think the issue is going to resolve itself.”
Another challenge is whether to allow children to bring their own device to school—or whether they should be given school-issued devices. If students bring in their own, there could be equity issues: Some students will have a device, while others may not. And not all devices are created equal.
For now, schools that are encouraging the use of a child’s own device in the classroom for learning purposes are taking a laid-back approach. For example, next school year, the Katy Independent School District, in a suburb of Houston, will allow students to bring their own personal devices; the district is installing public Wi-Fi at every campus.
“Public Wi-Fi does not address the equity issue, of every kid having a device, but it does leverage the personal investment parents have made,” says Lenny Schad, the district’s chief information officer. “If not every student has a device, we have mobile carts, so teachers can supplement that way. [Or,] they can pair up with students who do have a device.”