Good or Bad Idea? Middle Schoolers Are Able to Use Personal iPhones and Laptops in Schools

Instead of asking kids to check their cell phones at the door, technical devices are now welcome as learning tools.
More schools are allowing kids to bring their own technology to school. (Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Sep 5, 2012
is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

This October, students in the Anderson School District 5 in South Carolina will be bringing their iPhones, iPads, laptops and e-Readers to school. Not for show and tell and not just for free time, but for daily regular use in the classroom.

“I really [felt] that [we were] doing them a disservice by not allowing them and teaching them how to use these devices,” E-learning director Anna Baldwin told her local 7 WSPA news channel. Lakeside Middle School teacher Rebecca Yoder was also interviewed for the story, and she said she wants to capitalize on the savvy tech foundation kids already have from using these devices at home: “If we don't take advantage of that knowledge and push them forward, they're just going to become more behind.” 

In fact, a number of schools across the country are starting to test out this radical idea. Instead of asking kids to check their cell phones at the door or leave their iPads at home, technical devices are now welcome. Teachers are being trained to help students access the Internet on their personal devices. Students can then learn how to do research, find instructive Podcasts and access academic online programs—all at the tip of their fingers while sitting in class. If a teacher mentions a subject of interest, students can quickly look it up on their iPad or laptop while the topic is still fresh in their minds.

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This shift in thinking, which has been dubbed “Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT),” does not come without debate. Advocates say that budget cuts means schools don’t often have the option to provide computers, so it make sense to have students bring in their own. Plus, they say, technology is a greater part of modern existence, so students should learn how to responsibly use these devices in a safe setting where (presumably) the right blocks, filters, and teacher monitoring are in place.

Some teachers even say that using these devices in class has helped make students more excited about learning. According to a article on Celly, a text-messaging service specifically designed for schools, Indiana English teacher Joseph Gianotti says students are eager to text in their reactions to literary classics: “The shy kids don’t like to talk during regular group discussions, but they’re really active on Celly.”

Teachers and administrators who are behind BYOT programs say students learn responsibility not only for ignoring temptations like Facebook, but for physically taking care of their devices. But that also cuts to the main reason why some people do not think BYOT is a good idea. According again to the article, expectations for students to bring in expensive technical devices could lead to social problems. “The rationale for school uniforms, for putting kids in matching plaid polyester, is so poor kids don’t feel bad and aren’t stigmatized in the classroom,” educational consultant Gary Stager told the Time reporter. “BYOT is another form of stigmatizing kids.”

Schools say they are combating this issue by asking students to share their devices and work in groups. Or, as the principal at Carol Rae Ranch Elementary is doing in Gilbert, AZ, asking for “gently used” donations so that every child has a device whether they can afford one or not.

Do you think it's a good idea to allow students to use personal technology devices in schools? Share your thoughts in comments.

Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.

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