Why Schools Should Stop Banning Cell Phones, and Use Them for Learning

    by Audrey Watters
    August 29, 2011
    While many schools ban cell phones, they are starting to rethink those policies.

    Last week, a 
    study by the
    Internet and American Life Project
    found that cell phones have
    become “near ubiquitous”: 83 percent of American adults own one. Over
    half of all adult mobile phone owners had used their phones at least
    once to get information they needed right away. And more than a
    quarter said that they had experienced a situation in the previous
    month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not
    have their phones at hand.

    More educators are realizing that cell phones can enhance learning."


    The findings of this Pew research — the reliance of adults on
    their cell phones — stands in sharp contrast to the policies of many
    schools, where cell phones remained banned or restricted. Students
    likely have these same needs as adults: to get online and find
    information they need right away. But often students are banned from
    using their cell phones in schools, something that students
    themselves list as one
    of the greatest obstacles
    they face in using technology in the

    For many schools, these are formal rules, written in school policy
    or in student handbooks. But as phones become more like extended
    appendages in everyone’s lives, schools are rethinking their
    policies. MindShift
    teachers how or whether these rules were changing and
    received some interesting feedback.



    Educator Nilda Vargas reported that
    students can use cell phones to access their online books, while
    teacher Shekema Silveri replied that although she requires cell phone
    usage in her class, the school policy against it hasn’t changed.
    “Most teachers are still afraid of cell phones in the classroom
    because they know little about how to use them as a tool for
    learning,” she wrote on MindShift’s
    Facebook page

    High school teacher Kim Ibarra said that her school has gone from
    a “no cell phones in school at all — not even in the hallways or
    at lunch” policy about four to five years ago, to “cell phone
    usage in the classroom if the teacher has asked for
    permission ahead of time with an explanation of what will be done and
    why it is necessary” about two years ago, to “cell phones can be
    used in the classroom if the teacher has students using them for
    educational purposes” last year, and back to the more prohibitive
    “students may use cell phones in the school only at lunch in a
    specified area” — the policy for this upcoming year.


    Many teachers noted that written policies don’t always mirror
    informal ones, and that there’s a groundswell of those who
    recognize that cell phones need not be seen solely as distractions or
    as ways for students to cheat. More educators are realizing that cell
    phones can enhance learning.

    High school teacher Jamie Williams describes his school’s policy
    regarding cell phones:

    My high school’s policy is cell phones should be off
    and out of sight. If seen, they are taken and the student is written
    up. Our handbook says students may use phones with teacher
    permission. I’m a huge tech nerd and make my students use their
    phones throughout my class. My biggest gripe is that most students
    have these great smartphones and barely use the device to a 10th of
    their potential.

    Williams teaches art and technology classes. For his art class, he
    asks students to use photos they’ve taken on their cell phones as
    the basis for paintings they’ll create. During tests, Williams
    allows his students to use both their handwritten notes and those
    they’ve saved on their phones. In his video class, most students
    have phones capable of shooting in high definition, and use them for
    projects. This year, he’s hoping to make a large-scale mosaic of
    student life created solely from cell phone images.

    Williams notes that it’s difficult for students to have to go
    from one class where they’re expected to make full use of their
    phones to another in which the phone has to be off and hidden. He
    also points to the irony that in a lot of these latter classes,
    students are “asked to do research on a desktop computer that
    absolutely has less processing power than the computer in their

    And that’s probably one of the most important observations: Many
    students already carry a powerful computing device in their pockets,
    while oftentimes much of the technology hardware at schools is
    woefully out-of-date. By allowing cell phones, schools may find they
    have equipped students with better devices — that can work
    as calculators, cameras, videocameras, books and notebooks, for
    example — at no or low cost to the school.


    Cell phones are, of course, just one piece of a BYOD (Bring Your
    Own Device) program, and this wiki
    created by Manitoba educator Darren Kuropatwa gives some tips on how
    to prepare for, and take advantage of, cell phones and other devices
    brought into the classroom from home.

    But the biggest obstacle remains the attitudes of those educators
    and administrators who still frown on the devices and fear their
    usage, who confiscate them from students, and who see them as a
    distraction rather than a powerful tool for learning. It’s clear
    that schools must come up with an acceptable use policy for
    cell phones in the classroom. But as more adults indicate that they’re
    “lost” without their cell phones, it hardly seems acceptable that

    we ban students’ access to the devices.

    Phone photo by Kyle N. on Flickr.

    Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O’Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

    i-e8972c04bb50d1e1ff98a13097161b6f-mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQEDs MindShift,
    which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech
    trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

    Tagged: cell phones learning pew internet photography schools smartphones students technology videocamera

    90 responses to “Why Schools Should Stop Banning Cell Phones, and Use Them for Learning”

    1. mcasey5 says:

      I agree. These articles don’t even look at the mountain of problems phones create in a classroom, even if they (phones) can help certain projects. Tech articles often feel like they are written by ad folks or zealots who have no interest in looking objectively at the phenomenon.

      I have no data :) to support this, but I would bet my lousy paycheck that 90 % of phone use in the classroom is off topic (at best), social or silly fun. The occasional proper use doesn’t justify their place in a classroom. Morphine can be properly used to ease extreme pain, but I’m not handing out bags of smack in class with the distant hope that someone among my 100 teens will use it properly.

      • Patrick says:

        That was a terrible analogy. Comparing drugs and phones? Half your students probably don’t know how to properly use morphine, or need to.

        • Teacherman says:

          Addiction to phones has been shown to stimulate the exact same places as people addicted to drugs.

    2. mcasey5 says:

      Please tell me you are a troll. If I were Steve Jobs himself your comment (assuming it is meant seriously) would induce me to call for a worldwide ban on phones, .

      But if you are a troll, this is pretty good satire.

    3. An eighth grader says:

      I agree with the no side of cell phones should be banned and here is why I say it. The first reason being is kids have already shown they can’t be trusted on the computer because they are always sending messages to each other. To prove this is I was working on the project we were given in class one day and this was a video project where you make a hero of the quarter assignment and I just finished it so I went to an open spot and the person next to me was messaging like four other kids in the class. So what I have to say is that kids can’t even be trusted on the computer so how can you trust them on something that is smaller and easier to hide what they are doing and something that you can not even track what they are doing on

    4. Chase says:

      I believe that the usage of cellphone should only be used as free tIme or a reward for finishing 1st.

      • Auriahna says:

        If the teacher says ahead of time “The student who finishes first, gets to play on their phone.” then all of the students will race through their work, just to play on their phones.

    5. John Marsten says:

      My name is John Marsten

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    7. lucas says:

      phones are cool

    8. monique says:

      that is not true

    9. monique says:

      you should be sorry child

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    17. colby bilotta says:


    18. colby bilotta says:


    19. colby bilotta says:

      i use my cell pphone in class all the time and i am in 6th grade i hav a iphone 5s

    20. mallory says:

      no we dont

    21. mallory says:

      no we dont suck i gue you do
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    23. Patrick says:

      I can tell

    24. Patrick says:

      Is it so hard to read your post BEFORE you post it!

    25. Patrick says:

      Banning cell phone will get you nowhere, they’re going to brig them regardless. Trust me, I know.

    26. Patrick says:

      good thing you’re not an English teacher, is it so hard to read your post before posting it? Granted its better than most of them, I’ll give you that much.

    27. Patrick says:


    28. Andrew Hesik says:

      I just got suspended for refusing to hand my cell phone over to a hall monitor after using it in the hallway for less than a minute. He cornered me against my locker and was extremely rude to me. After he stated to me that I was “refusing to hand over my cell phone” he took me to the Deans office, the Dean then told me that I would get suspended for 3 days for refusing to hand it over. I believe it is absurd to deprive a student of their education temporarily for such a small offense.

    29. kayla says:

      i think phones at school are great

    30. sam ko says:

      what school are these teachers from ? like in what state

    31. cocolady246 says:

      I think we should have phones in school in case we don’t know if we are getting picked up or walking home. That is why we should have phones at school

    32. cocolady246 says:

      I like my phone it is the S5!

    33. cocolady246 says:

      I LOVE MY PHONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    34. silus long says:


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    59. DaViD says:


    60. NY Educator says:

      I think that the thing you are not considering is what these ‘adults’ surveyed use the cell phone for. They claim they would be “lost” without it mostly because it makes e-mailing for work, accessing online banking, or searching addresses/phone numbers, and navigating the world easier. These are adults activities that most young people are not a part of. I am a high school educator (With a smart phone, that I use to conduct my adult life) and am witnessing the vast majority of my students, a FEW juniors and seniors excluded, access Web 2.0 to gang bully other students, distract themselves from classes, and laugh as they troll around the internet with theirs friends.

    61. RegretDSI says:

      we should be allowed to use them because IT IS FREAKING 2015!!! besides… there are even more ways they can help then all that… ESPICALLY IF THERE’S AN EMERGENCY SUCH AS A LOCKDOWN!!!!!!
      my gawd… same here Greg…

      • DAnn Fercharles says:

        Hon, I understand your point of view, but you’ve just proven the point teachers on this thread are making. “IT IS FREAKING 2015” is not meaningful support of your point and people do get through emergencies without cell phones. English teacher here. If you wish to be taken seriously check your spelling “especially” and the comparative word you wanted was “than” not “then.”

    62. RegretDSI says:

      same here Greg… (forgot to say lol)

    63. Catherine says:

      Da hell, phones should not be banned they are very useful they help you become responsible and not only that I so agree with Monique you should get a life and stop worrying about mine

    64. dj says:

      i have add and i use my phone to mess with in class so i can pay attention more

    65. Nancy says:

      Kids are retarded. How lame do you have to be to think you need a child?

    66. Nancy says:

      Great proof why humans should never reproduce!

    67. Theresa Frame says:

      I can NOT disagree more. As a very open-minded educator, I have incorporated cell phones into my lessons for years, oftentimes requiring me to seek special permission for my students to have them. What I have found after a decade of teaching is that students lack the self-control and respect for teachers and administrators to limit their use to “by teacher permission only.” The BYOD policy at our school contributes to rampant cheating, short attention spans, and an instant-gratification attitude that precludes deep thinking. Let’s fund schools so that they can purchase tablets and iPads for use during class, so that teachers can encourage scholarly use of technology and have a bit of control over them, as well. As for emergencies, your kid can use a landline just like we did way back in the 80’s.

    68. DAnn Fercharles says:

      They need to be put away during classes. Some of the above article suggests that since adults need/use them productively regularly, students need to learn that at school. Problem 1. Students are not adults, even eighteen year old brains are not fully developed. Problem 2. constant distraction. We passed notes, but that took a lot more effort and planning. This is too easy to hide and many students have constant “notes” going on. Problem 3. Many students who are basically addicted to social media behave literally like an alcoholic with a bottle of booze in front of him. Especially for those students, we have to remove they booze until their brains are ready to cope. I tried a loose policy in my classroom for two years. It doesn’t work. To continue would be educational malpractice.

    69. Chiperdada says:

      totally wrong. as a teacher who works at a school that allows cell phones they hurt 10000x more than they help. I have found them taking live video of the classroom and hosting it online, they pictures of everything like their teachers and are constantly playing games, texting and using social media rather than doing their work or listening to a lecture.

    70. Rob Phillips says:

      I feel sorry for you and your child. It is not your kid, your rules by the way. In loco parentis.

    71. Christina says:

      I strongly agree. Most people think it will cause students to cheat, and pay less attention in class, but think about it. If we don’t have phones in class, what will some students do? Talk directly to each other, and cheat without the phone. Not every student is perfect and 100% well behaved, but on the other hand, not all of us are unscrupulous lazy people who don’t like work. Holding us back because of one group that may not even be majority prevents us from advancing

    72. Dustyn Nadolny says:


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