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Cell Phones – Time to Lift the Ban on Mobiles in the School Setting?

Needless to say, the general consensus regarding cell phones and schools is that the two simply do not mix. However, a new study from across the pond gives strong indication that schools should give greater consideration to putting these handheld mobile devices to work.

The Current View
When it comes to cell phones and schools, the current position is that these mobile devices have no place in the school setting. At, we found the following rather emphatic assessment:

Distractions such as cell phones don’t belong in school…. Cell phones in school are an unnecessary distraction that takes time away from teachers and can be a source in cheating…. I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you think students will not be texting each other while a teacher is teaching, you’re dead wrong…. Cell phones have become a huge problem.

And as yet another indication of how professors view these wondrous little devices, we turn to a story that appeared in the NY Times.

Halfway through the semester in his market research course at Roanoke College last fall, only moments after announcing a policy of zero tolerance for cellphone use in the classroom, Prof. Ali Nazemi heard a telltale ring. Then he spotted a young man named Neil Noland fumbling with his phone, trying to turn it off before being caught.

“Neil, can I see that phone?” Professor Nazemi said, more in a command than a question. The student surrendered it. Professor Nazemi opened his briefcase, produced a hammer and proceeded to smash the offending device. Throughout the classroom, student faces went ashen.

“How am I going to call my Mom now?” Neil asked. As Professor Nazemi refused to answer, a classmate offered, “Dude, you can sue.”

Let’s be clear about one thing. Ali Nazemi is a hero. Ali Nazemi deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mobile Phones and Learning in Secondary Schools
However, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Nadja Heym of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham recently released a research report that would seem to contradict that current viewpoint. While How mobile phones help learning in secondary schools may not be a ringing endorsement of cell phone use for educational purposes, it certainly offers an interesting take on the potential use of these mobile devices to enhance the educational setting.

compujerameyThe study followed teachers in three schools who began exploring ways to use students’ personal phones as well as additional borrowed smart phones. Though in each case there were existing school policies banning mobile phones in class, students were given permission to use cell phones for a wide array of activities.

The study focused on the basic question: Is there a positive side to mobile phones in schools and if so, how might they be used to support learning? The researchers came away with a yes verdict and offered some specific ways in which cell phone technology could support learning.

A partial list of the ways that teachers used the devices included:

  • Timing experiments with stopwatch
  • Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
  • Photographing development of design models for eportfolios
  • Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
  • Bluetoothing project material between group members
  • Receiving SMS & email reminders from teachers
  • Synchronizing calendar/timetable and setting reminders
  • Connecting remotely to school learning platform
  • Recording a teacher reading a poem for revision
  • Accessing revision sites on the Internet
  • Creating short narrative movies
  • Downloading and listening to foreign language podcasts
  • Logging into the school email system
  • Using GPS to identify locations
  • Transferring files between school and home

Attitudinal Shifts

Mark WarnerAs one might expect, students were at first quite surprised by the notion that mobile phones could actually be used for learning. Because of their prior use pattern, the phones were deemed items associated with socializing.

In addition, the use of the cell phone technology in the classroom served as a great motivator for students. Almost all students reported greater enjoyment in projects and felt more motivated. In one school, the results indicated that the phone use in the classroom helped students both in their social and learning environments, thereby increasing student confidence and their work ethic.

One key element supporting the use of mobile phones over other handheld learning devices is that most students already own mobile phones. Therefore, the allowance of cell phones was a step towards student ownership and greater personalization of learning. The fact that students used the devices outside of school and in social settings meant they also tended to bring a set of skills to the classroom by virtue of their own experimentation with their phone. In addition, the phones allowed for a reduction in the number of devices to carry – many students reported using them in place of their calculator.

themarinaNoting the current concerns, the researchers assert that the eventual aim should be to replace policies that involve blanket bans on the devices. That said, they noted the supervision-related challenges associated with cell phones and therefore noted that whole-school changes should not occur at the outset. Instead, the researchers note a gradual shift would be more appropriate, one that could coincide with behavioral changes when the alignment of mobile devices with purposeful learning occurred. Ultimately, the researchers suggest that mobile phones could in fact come to be perceived as natural in the school setting as any other technology.


As for mobile technology having the potential to positively impact education, the researchers offered an assessment that contrasts significantly with the view of FabZone or Prof. Ali Nazemi.

In every case, other teachers became interested and involved, and the project teachers decided to continue using mobile phones. These champions of change have shown that, with good planning and anticipating class management and technical issues, using mobile phones can be a very productive way to augment access to tools for computing, communication and photography. As one student said ‘It is good to use new technologies. It prepares us for the future as we will be using mobile phones more and more.’

Full copies of the report are available in word format and in PDF.

Flickr photos courtesy of Justin Baeder, Mark Warner, themarina, and compujeramey


1 Velsatis { 02.09.09 at 5:27 am }

And cell phone manufacturers and sellers are going to be happy forever as well as battery ones and brain cancer research too (maybe !).

2 kayli { 02.10.09 at 11:15 am }

i think personaly
kids have rights to use cell phones
at lunch an recess no in class
thank you for your time case is close

3 Robert Thiele { 02.13.09 at 11:27 am }

This movement has gained sufficient momentum and it is not going away. Legislators will find this inertia difficult to arrest. It is not possible to separate students and their cellular devices when they are away from campus. A K12 setting mindset should be that just as in the adult workplace, school and the associated technology adoption activities can be broadened and melded into today’s modern curriculum. To collaborate and communicate more efficiently via SMS texting etc…

4 davet { 02.22.09 at 5:17 pm }

But not all students have the same phones with the same capabilities. Some of my kids have iPhones, others have basic Nokias with limited camera etc. So some will be able to transfer files, research on the web etc others can’t. Until all have exactly the same phones and capabilities we are going to divide the class into those able to do X and those not able to do X. Why not push for tablets or UMPCs for all instead? The other problem as already mentioned is that students WILL use them for socialising within the class if they can get away with it!

5 Jacob { 04.17.09 at 3:56 pm }

Time has changed so much and now we have new technology we need to allow students to use cell phones to communicate. Students use to communicate by sending noted back and forth. Now students send txts. LETS ALLOW CELL PHONES

6 John { 08.06.09 at 10:26 pm }

What students, and adults for that matter, need to learn is to LIVE WITHOUT CELL PHONES for periods of time. We have laws limiting use while driving, doctors offices and the like ask that they be turned off and put away. Students should need to learn to function WITHOUT cell phones for periods of time since they spend so much time, TOO MUCH TIMES STUDIES HAVE SHOWN using cell phones and on the internet. There is NO WAY you will be able to control all of the inappropriate use cell phones WILL be used for in the classroom and the distractions and cheating that go on–it is OUT OF CONTROL and they should be banned–end of story!! To try and justify them as a learning tool is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Use them as a stop watch? USE A REAL DAMN WATCH. Use them as a calculator? USE A DAMN CALCULATOR. Get those damn phones out of the classroom! I hope that the law is changed to allow JAMMERS in school, as Mayor Bloomberg suggests because it is desperately needed. Some say parents NEED them to contact their children. If parents are using them to contact students during school for anything other then a true emergency, that is call a DISTRACTION and is totally inappropriate. If it there is an urgent need to contact a child, do what people have done for decades. Call the school on a land line for Christ’s sake–its worked they way for years. Good God, I can’t believe that people are so stupid as to actually try and make a case FOR using the most annoying device ever created. As I said before, there are reasons that there are laws and polices regarding cell phone use. STOP BEING SO STUPID.

7 Samuelina { 08.10.09 at 6:14 am }

Children were sent to school to gain knowledge not to display cell phones. I plead with the management of schools, the Ghana Education Service, parents and guardians to help ban the use of cell phones in school because:
1. It distracts the attention of students in class and
2. It brings about theft in schools.
Thank You!!

8 ailsa { 08.19.09 at 9:27 pm }

Would have been fairer to say that the story of the Professor smashing the mobile was a staged performance.

9 brittany { 10.13.09 at 2:15 pm }

i am a student and i have a cell phone but i put it in my car while in school. i agree cell phones should not be used in school

10 wendy { 11.17.09 at 5:18 pm }

i have my cell phone in school all the time and record convrsations and take notes so i dont foget anything

11 Shannon { 11.20.09 at 3:07 pm }

I am a high school student that is currently writing a research paper on this very subject. I think it would be great to allow cell phones for educational purposes because they are convienient resources that are easy to use, not to mention that over eighty percent of teenagers own cell phones according to a recent Harris Interactive study. I can, however, see the opposite view. It is understandable that many students would abuse their rights. Well, my opinion is that if they choose not to pay attention in class it is their own loss. My school does not allow mobile phones during the day but it would be extremely beneficial to my classmates and I if they changed this policy. At home when I do my homework, my cell phone has been very helpful. Maybe one day schools will see the light and turn this unavoidable obstacle into a learning opportunity.

12 Anna { 12.09.09 at 5:40 pm }

Hello well i dont know about you people but i think cellphones are useful in school you can take notes

13 jasmine { 12.09.09 at 5:56 pm }

I can go on and on about letting kids have cell phones at school, so to make it short cell phones are realy inportant to students try being in there shoes!

14 Kevin { 12.19.09 at 1:35 pm }

No need for phones in schools. BTW jasmine I have been in your shoes I grew up when cell phone hadnt been mass marketed yet. Only the rich owned them, I did all 12 grades and 2 years of college before I had owned one, and I made it through just fine without them.
As another poster stated if you need a calculator then use a calculator, same for stop watch and as for taking notes, they still make paper.

15 A.Roddy { 01.10.10 at 8:06 pm }

Then everyone wonders what is wrong with kids While I wouldnt smash someone’s property, cell phones DO NOT belong in schools. they are not subs for verbal comunication. Open your mouth and talk to students. Its time to reinstate old fashioned learning and not give in to spoiled brats.. We learned without any of this . What about the poor kids who cant afford them? School is expensive enough. We found out about emergencies at home or someone called us ino the office. I think some are just looking to get out of scool.very well said John

16 Abi { 01.26.10 at 2:07 pm }


17 Anonymous { 01.29.10 at 2:43 pm }

i sooo agree with anna

18 No Name { 02.19.10 at 4:42 pm }

As an educator, I have had to deal with many situation where cell phones are used at school for less than admirable purposes. Many students have been disciplined at school for using cell phones to transmit inapprorpiate photos of girlfiends or boyfriends or gang related material via their messaging service. Some students have even used their texting skills to interfere with investigations by informing their friends that something is afoot. Theft has been a big issue as well. If parents feel they need to let their child have a cell phone for emergencies or communication after school hours, then a policy of allowing phones at school but keep them off and out of sight during school hours might be acceptable. I know of many school districts who have this policy. Violators may have their phones confiscated and returned at the end of the day or the parent may be required to pick it up. There may be some “reasonable” uses for such technology at school, but there are also many other contradictory uses that make opening the cell phone door on school campuses an undesirable approach.

19 kaylee { 03.02.10 at 3:19 pm }

i would be so mad if anyone ever did that to my cell phone i think that cell phones should be allowed b/c alot of the time they say just to leave it in your locker but ya people steal things at my school and i don’t have a lock so no way im going to leave mine in there. and as for cheating on tests i mean seriously how many people actually do that i mean it can’t even be that long of a text haha mabe not the best explanation but still i think they should be allowed as a resource and emergency device in school :)

20 Someone { 03.11.10 at 7:06 pm }

I don’t think they should ban cell phones in school because the teachers should be alert during tests so no one can cheat and they might need to call parents after school and if there were to be an emergency such as a lockdown and you were in the bathroom, you could contact the school to let them know where you were or call 911.

21 hunter { 03.19.10 at 9:18 am }

I am a student and use my phone every day along with my iPod and other devices.

22 PETER ROBLES { 03.24.10 at 4:47 pm }


23 paper-heart { 03.26.10 at 5:57 pm }

I got my cell tooken away, it ain’t fun… I payed lots of money for it and I have a plan… I used it outside once and the teacher took it away from me… it’s not like I did any bad, like really!! after I got it tooken away I got a call at home that my parents need to go see her because of my cell phone!! ends up the teacher went through my cell, is that even allowed? like it is very personal!!! 

Is it allowed for a teacher to go through a cell phone without any permission?? laws please!! 

24 mara { 04.20.10 at 9:07 am }

cells help transfer and u can text ur absent friends missed assignments

25 anonymus { 04.21.10 at 8:59 am }

i like to text my boyfriendduring class

26 titi { 04.22.10 at 9:28 am }

students have to know the responsibility of a cell in school and everythinq would be ok

27 Bree & Arii { 04.29.10 at 11:46 am }

i disagree with this i think that we should have PHONES in school!!! i think it would be better to have phones in school because it would be better then off in your locker getting all dusty!!!!Who agrees??

28 Ashley Carlos { 05.03.10 at 6:58 pm }

I think that they should let students bring cell phones to school. Like they can use it but, when the teacher is speakinjg or showing something that students should put it away if not detention and for tests they have to give it to the teachers so, they know they are not cheating and bomb threats are you serious?

29 Harley { 05.04.10 at 4:42 pm }

I disagree, I believe that cell phones in school is a great idea. It gives you the “safety feeling”. I for one love that feeling.

30 Olivia { 05.25.10 at 1:55 pm }

okay look, i am a middle schooler and i c wat some of u guys r saying lik they could get stolen and they could be dangerous but i agree w/ ashley carlos i mean, just give the teacher ur fone during tests and lik u should at least be able to hav them during lunch and recess and i also agree w/ mara, paper heart, and someone.
i rest my case…

31 Amanda { 07.19.10 at 3:03 pm }

Mobile phones are an awesome learning tool but like anything they require proper training. Where will students learn skills, etiquette and manners with technology if not in school?
We are preparing our students for the future and the workforce of the future- are we not?. Workplaces have rules regarding the use of technology but they also REQUIRE employees to use the technology properly. Mobile phones are sure to be included in that number. If students are not prepared to use the technology properly and efficiently -then we need to ask ourselves- “are we doing our job as educators”. We need to stop preparing our students for yesterday’s work environment and start preparing them for tomorrow’s. Mobile phones were at one time a cute, fun communication accessory, but they are now a vital business tool.

32 Ethan Brockman { 07.25.10 at 12:19 am }

I believe that there should be a portion of the school day set aside to teach people how to type proper English on their phones. I do agree that there should be phones in school, but the only problem I see is that texting leads to horrible language skills. By the way, I’m typing this on my Blackberry Curve 8900 during class, as a class assignment.

33 no one { 07.27.10 at 9:29 am }

I really don’t think that students should use cell phones at school specially in privates schools or science schools. It can interrupt our class and can have a bad results of our grades and studies!DUH!!!!!

34 Cristian { 10.06.10 at 4:03 pm }

I do strongly believe that cell phones can be very distracting, and a not so class-friendly. It doesn’t matter if they unban it or not, kids will just want to break the rules. Like right now I am texting about 3 of my friends in class, and typing this. Kids will be kids. Make rules, prepare for them to be broken.

I also do believe that cell phone technology can be a benefit to students and teachers by utilizing many of a phone’s features such as calculator, tip calculator, converter, camera&video, voice memo. They are all school-related topics and make sense if these applications were allowed in the school zone.

35 Allison { 10.07.10 at 1:50 pm }

well heres the truth, students are going to find away around any sort of banned call phone use rules.
Cant see the phone – they text in the pocket
No sounds- key board silencer
Cell phone fines- students will hide it. They have developed away around all of the rules.
Cell phones are an ANNOYANCE to teachers. nothing really more and people dont get to just smach others stuff cause its ANNOYING. If a student chooses not to pay attention then they wont.. taking away their phone just bothers them and they will do it again. i thik this is a genius idea. By giving the phones another use. Instead of everyone losing everyone gains something. Cell phones can be more of an advantage then teachers want to think.

36 brandon layton { 12.07.10 at 9:06 am }

i think cell phones should be aloud because u can research things u are learning about and it would help us learn about more things

37 Eclipse { 01.13.11 at 12:13 pm }

y’know, it wouldnt be half bad! i don’t keep my phone in my locker because the locks at my school, sometimes unlock without a combo! as for the smashed phone, that’s intolerable, not to mention that the teacher would have a slimy mess all over his desk! (LCD screens are just what theyre called, they have a liquid inside that’s shot with electricity to make a picture)

38 say no to cell phones in school { 02.18.11 at 10:54 pm }

Cell phones are a complete distraction in the classroom. When students have their phone out and are told to put it away, the phone comes out again, again, and yet again. So much time should not be wasted by students who can’t focus on a lesson and have no idea what is happening in class because they are focused in another world almost that of a parallel universe. Another problem arrises when a student steels another students phone in the classroom. The student freaks out, makes a scence, security must be called in to check bags, and next thing you know an entire lesson of learning is wasted on what? The damn cell phone that the student shouldn’t have brought to school in the first place. Students don’t want to hand them over then more time is wasted, so time is wasted while texting, then wasted on the confrontation, then wasted on the confiscation and teachers get tired of doing it day after day. The student fails the class and who does the student and parent want to blame it on? Certainly, not the cell phone. Students need to take responsibility and put the devices AWAY!!!!

39 Janice { 03.04.11 at 2:43 am }

Some students acknowledge the damage done by some students with the inappropriate use of a cell phone. However, they contend that the majority of students use the cell phone constructively while obeying all school rules.

40 Cassandra { 03.25.11 at 10:14 am }

if students are forced to put their cell phones away then so should teachers!!

41 Gobluebrooks { 04.19.11 at 4:09 pm }

Cell-phones should be allowed at certain times during school. inbetween classes, lunch, etc.
These teachers have no right to take our phone. At my school if its your third time getting caught they keep it for the rest of the year…. i got caught for the third time… fml.. i sweet talked my teacher if you get what i mean… success!!

42 Alyss night { 05.18.11 at 10:10 am }

also i agree with cassandra and On around 71 percent of parent say yes to lift the cell phone band.
There are many ways teachers could use cell s say the think the ban on phone’s in school should be changed, and on out of 9342 85% said yes to lifting the cell phone ban and 15% said no many parents and students all agree that all schools should allow cell phones’ here are a few good views on cell phone usage from like You can be in touch with your children, and know their whereabouts.
And your kids can reach you in the event of an emergency, and vice versa.
Also if in danger, your children can reach the authorities or a medical provider.
Phones can be silenced during class or study periods, and active only in appropriate places.
Cell phones create a convenience that was previously unavailable. With cell phones, you can easily reach your kids for any reason: to ask them questions, change plans, or to simply say hello.
At here there are many ways students could use cell phones in class and here are a few of them:

• Timing experiments with stopwatch
• Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
• Photographing development of design models for export folios
• Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
• Using GPS to identify locations
• Transferring files between school and home

So if students turn their phone on silent when they’re not using them in class them we don’t have to worry about distractions in class.

43 :-) { 05.27.11 at 11:55 pm }

i writing an essay about this and NONE of these reasons are helping!

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