Sometimes our everyday world feels like a science fiction novel:  we have these machines that are small enough to fit in our pockets, that allow us access to a seemingly infinite amount of information! Such casual access to powerful research tools has got to be good for learning, right?

Well, no — at least, that’s what teacher/writer Greg Graham thinks. Kids these days may have an easier time getting information, but they’re actually not that good at a host of other skills, including staying focussed, thinking critically, and parsing large chunks of information. At home, kids spend a ton of time multitasking — reading Brave New World while gchatting, combining Facebook time and homework time, etc. Many schools try to keep kids focussed by implementing no-phone rules. In New York City, for example, metal detectors scan for cell phones, which get confiscated if found. 

But then there’s the pro-cell contingent, who argue that media devices are so omnipresent that teachers need to learn how to use them to enhance learning, instead of avoiding them out of fear. Audrey Watters notes that a phones aren’t just phones these days; they can also “work as calculators, cameras, videocameras, books and notebooks…at no or low cost to the school.”

In Baltimore City, the official public school policy is that “if a cell phone is seen and/or heard by any adult in the building, it will be confiscated and only returned when a parent/guardian comes to school to collect the cell phone. If a student is found with their cell phone a second time it will be confiscated by the principal and not returned until the end of the year.” Pretty harsh, and pretty hard to reinforce.

What’s your take on cell phones in schools?