What should schools do regarding smartphone & tablet use?

What should schools do regarding smartphone & tablet use?

The Department of Education decided to release a rather odd circular (38/2018) on the use of smartphones and tablet devices in order for them to update or replace their existing whole school policy on ICT. Schools are being asked to decide on a number of issues:

  • The appropriate use, if any, of tablet devices and smart phones in school
  • The issues governing the use of smart phones and tablet devices with regard to, for example, recording videos, taking photos
  • The nature and scope of restrictions that might be applied by the school e.g. age grounds
  • If smart phones should be allowed outside of class time i.e. during breaks, on school grounds after school

…and finally, and probably the oddest of them all:

  • Schools should use the opportunity of the consultation process to raise awareness and promote a shared approach regarding the appropriate use of digital technologies in the school and home.

The spoof Facebook Page, Class Action News, has responded fairly close to how teachers are actually feeling about the above. I’m personally appalled by the final point. Schools are effectively being asked to tell parents how to monitor their own child’s smartphone usage outside school. After seeing two of my own friends on Facebook showing off Communion Cakes with a Fortnite theme, (Fortnite is an over 12’s video game), I’ve pretty much given up! In any case, schools becoming regulators for the home seems to be a bit of a trend, with schools already legally responsible for bullying taking place outside of school and talks seem to be going on about other ways schools should be interfering with families, for example, obesity policies.

Anyway, what should your school be doing in terms of device usage within school? (I’m recommending that schools do not touch the last point and get involved in homes.) There are many schools who would be happy with an outright ban on devices in schools. I think this is foolish. Despite the fact that I don’t agree with getting involved in children’s use of devices at home, I think we can teach children a lot about appropriate uses of devices within school, which hopefully would transfer into the home. This would be slightly similar to why we teach about healthy eating in SPHE.

The main thing a school really needs is a strong Acceptable Usage Policy. Schools will differ in how strict they are but my own personal opinion is that device usage must always be tightly supervised. This means that I think it is a bad idea to have device usage outside of structured learning times. Ultimately, I don’t agree with any device to be used in school for recreational use. I’m slightly on the fence about device-usage during times such as Golden Time. I would probably insist on a number of restrictions such as no online use, no video, no social media (not that any primary school child should be on social media!), and also that no child would be alone on a device. I don’t have too many problems with children playing (age-appropriate) games on devices during their free time but I have big problems if they are not socialising while they are doing it.

During structured teaching time, I would have few to no restrictions on device usage. If the use is highly supervised, and the instruction is clear and managed, there is little opportunity for children to do anything inappropriate. Devices can give students huge opportunities to learn in ways that they can’t possibly do without technology. For example, they can communicate and collaborate without using the same device or even be in the same room as the person/people they are collaborating with. The use of video and other media gives students opportunity to present their work in different formats.

Having said all the above, a teacher should be able to take a mental risk assessment of the potential dangers that are presented by the devices. Generally, the risks are quite low in a structured setting. However, if a student decides to use his/her device in a way that contravenes the policy, the consequences must also be structured and proportional. For example, if a child videos the birds outside the classroom instead of doing their work, that might result in the device being removed for the lesson; whereas if the child videos the teacher while he/she is teaching without permission, this is a far more serious breach of trust. I would be suggesting this would fall into the category of suspension or even exclusion for multiple offences.

Ultimately, this circular is likely to be irrelevant to the vast majority of schools because we have had to have Acceptable Usage Policies for a long time and they are usually updated on a regular basis.

 

Last Update: July 2, 2018  

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