My goal – to finally bring cell phones and their amazing technology into the classroom as working tools, instead of as working distractions. This idea initially came to me a few years ago but the world was clearly not ready. “Get those things out of our classrooms!” cried many, many teachers and administrators. And who can blame them. Students were clearly distracted by them and demonstrated very little restraint (if indeed, any restraint at all) in using them even though they were strongly instructed to turn them off and put them away. Now – years later, there is no improvement in student behaviour, but something else has changed. We, the great collective “we”, being teachers, administrators and superintendants, seem to be finally realizing two important developments. First, phones are not going away. Period. Secondly, these phones and all of the devices yet to come, are only going to become more capable and even more commonplace. In our own high school we have recently had to revise the school’s Code of Conduct to reflect these changing times and realities.
When I told one of our vice-prinicipals that I wanted to utilize cell phones and their built in cameras as sources of images for videos the students were doing in class, she was positively interested. THAT was not an answer I would have received a few years ago. Her only concern was that many of my students would therefore be out in the halls filming and shooting. I came up with a solution to that – press passes. The students and I would create a version of a hall pass but it would be labelled, Press Pass and would state that the student wearing this pass was one of mine and had certain responsibilities and it included my class phone number so another teacher could immediately call me and complain or comment. As it happens, it was not the use of the cell phones that killed that part of my process. We have had a run of incidents with too many students out and about in our hallways so when I approached our prinicipal about this experiment she was accepting of my use of the cell phones but not of the students in the halls. All of their shooting would have to be done outside of school, which actually worked out well for the project. What was very interesting was that she then told me about the upcoming changes to the Code of Conduct based in part on requests like mine to make positive use of these machines in school. Clearly not all teachers are in favour of this shift but when my department met to discuss the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct, they supported my experiment and wrote in the required changes for me. The change I am after allows a teacher to use a cell phone camera in class. Previously we were told that was illegal… and now I am just waiting for final confirmation that the changes are accepted and passed. Change apparently takes a long, long time. Still.
But here is the kicker – I am having a huge problem getting the students to use their phone cameras for the project. I never expected this to be a challenge. I tried and tried to understand the reasons for this attitude, with no success. Then one day a student needed help with a particularly difficult picture so I brought in my Pentax K10 semi-pro DSLR. His comment when he saw the pics I took was, “Those are legit.” And that, it seems, is part of the problem. Cell phone cameras are not legit. Big DSLR cameras are legit. The movie cameras I have in my classroom with their microphones on top and cables and such are legit. They look, “pro”. Cell phones are not “pro”. They are commonplace and they are entertainment. The fact that many cell phones are much better than little point-and-shoot cameras is lost on these students.
At this point in the proceedings I am still confident that as we become increasingly engaged in this project, the students will buy into the use of their phone cameras and they will start to realize that “legit” comes in many, many forms. Funny – I thought it would our administration that might stall the project. As I said – I remain optimistic. We’ll get there.
Where to from here? One student is finally using his cell phone to shoot images for his storyboard – he is doing a digital storyboard. When I told him he was welcome to put together a digital version he was delighted! I guess it never occured to him that that would be possible. Funny how these digital kids can be so cautious about some things while launching into new apps and technology a the same time.