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Robyn Young: BYOD – Rethink cell phone use in the classroom

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November 27, 2012 07:07 pm


The following blog post comes from Robyn Young, the school librarian at Avon High School and the Avon Advanced Learning Center in Avon, Indiana. She is a former Media Specialist of the Year in the State of Indiana.

My cell phone died.  OK – it didn’t die…I killed it. It fell off of my counter and landed right in the middle of my dog’s water bowl. The bowl is only 6 inches in circumference and about one inch deep, but that didn’t matter. I snatched the phone out of the water as fast as I could, but it was too late.  It was dead. And I didn’t back up the data on it.

The really bad part is that I’ve always kind of made fun of the people who don’t back up the data on their phones or who aren’t more careful with them, but now that it has happened to me, I guess that it’s really not that funny. Sure, my contacts and calendar are backed up automatically in iCloud, but my very favorite app – that has all of my school and personal notes in it – wasn’t backed up. Not only that, but I was left without a phone at all for three days while I figured out if mine could be fixed.

I was bereft without my cell phone. My entire life was in it: appointments, contacts for school, school passwords for online database administration, pictures of my family, pictures of things I wanted for school, my grocery list…everything! When I found out that none of it could be recovered, I’ll admit, I shed some tears, but I moved on and got another phone. I have spent hours trying to put the apps and data that I had in my original phone on the new one.

So that brings me to the point of this conversation: I thought about our students and how we ask them to unplug, turn off, or disconnect every single day. After personally being forced to “disconnect” for three days without a phone, I don’t know how students do it each day, and I understand completely why they sneak their phones out during class. I’m not necessarily “addicted” to my phone, as some may argue; it has become entrenched in my everyday life. Our students are the same way. A cell phone is so much a part of their daily routines, that it seems strange to be asked to put it away and not used at all.

Most schools still have policies about not using cell phones during the school day, and I understand the reasons for them. I’m even guilty of walking into my library and seeing students with cell phones and telling them to put them away before asking how they were using their phones. That’s the problem with phones: even if you are using them for a school-related purpose, it appears that you aren’t doing anything but playing on your phone.

I think it’s important for teachers to start changing their mind-sets about phones. Students having phones out doesn’t necessarily mean that they are texting or using them for evil. It could mean that they are putting a reminder for homework on their calendar, listening to music, using an app as a graphing calculator (I love that one!),  using an online database app for research, or one of a hundred other apps that really is school related. Cell phones can do just about everything that a laptop can do, and we should start using and embracing this technology in schools.

Tech-savvy teachers will say that they are already allowing this, and I applaud it. However, I consider myself tech-savvy and use cell phones for lessons, but I don’t usually allow students to use them outside of the lesson. After my own cell-phone fiasco though, I really started wondering why not. Part of it remains that my school’s policy does not allow students to use cell phones, so I feel that I need to reinforce the school’s rules.

But is it time that all schools start looking at that policy? What if we as teachers or librarians had a class for students about cell phone etiquette? Wouldn’t it be better to teach them proper use of their phones or interesting ways that they can use it to help with school? For example, students who frequently forget to do their homework could set an alarm to remind them to complete it later in the evening.

Why don’t we harness the power of the cell phone as a BYOD (Bring Your Own Devise) and save schools money? Students might not have their own laptop, but a large percentage of students seem to have a smart phone that could help them with school in some way. Isn’t it our job as teachers to figure out how students can use these?

I ask you to re-evaluate your thoughts on cell phones in the classroom. Take a day and think about the ways in which you use your own cell phone and figure out ways that students can use it in the classroom on their own time.

And one more thing…you might consider buying insurance for your cell phone so that a dog’s water dish doesn’t destroy everything!

Robyn Young is the school librarian at Avon High School and the Avon Advanced Learning Center in Avon, Indiana. She is a former Media Specialist of the Year in the State of Indiana. Contact Robyn at or on Twitter @ahsbooks . Learn more about Digital Learning Day at and read her previous posts on High School Soup at


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