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Is Confiscating Cell Phones Worth It?

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Date posted: September 7, 2011

Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, recently wrote another in a series of blog posts about cell phone and mobile devices in schools. In this post, Sameer points out why “even with a suspected or actual policy violation by a student, it may not be in your school’s best interests to seize that student’s device.”

240px-HTC_Aria_reviewFor starters, schools with strict policies prohibiting possession and use of cell phones wind up spending a tremendous amount of time and effort in seizing, securing, storing, and returning them, and in dealing with irate parents. Schools that include in-school suspension as a punishment are removing the offending students from the learning process in their classrooms. Is that what we want?

Prohibiting students’ personal electronic devices may seem like an easy solution to potential problems, but is it? As Sameer writes, these devices are an important part of students’ lives today, and “you cannot keep or deter all students from using their phones at school. It is going to happen.” If we drive mobile phone use underground, doesn’t that, too, disrupt the student’s ability to concentrate and learn?

And, if we ban devices, or services like social networking sites, where will students learn about appropriate, responsible and ethical behavior? Isn’t it better to have a moderate policy that allows mobile device use under certain conditions or at certain times, and to incorporate them into the learning process so we can teach kids how to be good digital citizens? That’s why groups like NASSP and CoSN have recommended the thoughtful use of social media, digital citizenship education and an emphasis on “responsible use policies.” Sameer suggests that schools develop policies that “represent the climate you are trying to build and maintain. This climate should be all about encouraging the positive and responsible use of technology, and dissuading its misuse and abuse.”

These are valuable, perhaps critical, skills that students need to learn in order to be safe and successful in the world in which they’ll live. It’s time we moved from banning to educating digital citizens.