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South View Digital Use Awareness Pilot

Recently, my department was approached about the possibility of testing out locking pouches to explore limiting access to cell phones by students during the school day. To be honest, I was skeptical, because I knew that while it is clear, some students (and adults) are addicted to their device, I was concerned that students would not be able to complete certain tasks. (It is hard to take a video or picture for an assignment with a conventional, non-touch Chromebook, for example.) Students come to school today with devices in their pocket that are more powerful than the computing power that put a person on the moon, and yet teachers sometimes want to ignore that reality. We know that there are many beneficial aspects to mobile tools for learning, AND, we know that for many people, even having the device in one's pocket can be detrimental to attention and impact learning
A few staff at South View Middle School were interested in the idea of using the locking pouch. Rather than treating it as a "punishment" for student misuse, instead they looked on it as an opportunity for student reflection on what it is like to go without a cell phone. I decided that it would be good for me to get to experience a couple of days without my device as well, and so I decided to participate.
At the end of the experience, students will respond to the following questions:
“Why do I NEED my phone right now?”
“What else could I do to get what I need?”
Here is the letter that went home to parents explaining the program.

At the start of the day, the instructors in three Advisory classes presented the following to students:

Careful! That pin is sharp!
Students then added their phones into the pouches, knowing that in an emergency, they could go to the office, or back to the Advisory classroom to unlock the pouch. (Being careful not to impale themselves on the pin!)

Below are my reflections on going without a device... 

Day 1 

As soon as I put the phone in the pouch and made my way out of the building, I thought about how I was missing the opportunity to respond to an e-mail or two, or check my calendar for the day as I walked back to the office.

Later in the day, we had guest speakers at a district meeting, and I so wanted to take a picture and tweet out some of the great information they were sharing, AND look up some of the resources they shared. I did have access to my laptop and solved the latter problem that way.

At the end of the school day, I went in and unlocked my phone. Caitlin Bailey, one of the teachers piloting the project noted that students had a hard time getting over their initial feelings about the pilot being "punitive." One student went so far as to insert a pad of post-it-notes into the sleeve to trick staff into believing the phone was secured. Still others texted parents, claiming their 4th Amendment rights had been violated! Bailey noted that as a social experiment, it has been extremely revealing at how emotionally students have reacted to not having instant access to their device. It is giving students first hand evidence of possible "addiction." 
Another teacher mentioned that he had to use one of the pouches when he went to a concert at Paisley Park, as they have a no cell policy, so it isn't just schools exploring this issue.
 As I expected, at least one student cut themselves on the pin at the top of the case. Overall, I was able to navigate my job without my phone, fairly well. At least I didn't miss any meetings, which for me was my biggest concern. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Day 2

As we met in Advisory for Day 2, students discussed their anxiety about not having access to a device. To avoid this, many kids chose to leave their device at home. Once concern that at least one teacher mentioned was the anxiety that kids were feeling after the school shooting in Texas last week. What if there was an emergency, and needed to get in touch with their parent? Good questions, and it speaks to the importance of thinking about the impact to student's mental health, both anticipated and unanticipated when considering a solution like this.

Another aspect of this is the overall policy at South View. Three years ago, the school instituted a "no cell phone" policy, as the school has 1:1 devices through our eLearning2 program. While students may have mobile devices, they are only to be taken out at teacher discretion, if needed for a photo or video for example. Bailey notes that had the pouches been tested a few years ago, there might have been more of an impact on behavior. Now, if kids are going to be off task, they are usually on their 1:1 device rather than phone.

I found I was less likely to reach for my phone today, though there was that moment I wanted to send a text to my wife and realized I couldn't! 

Day 3 and 4

The pilot moved to new classrooms. Students seemed to be reluctant to participate, though many did, or chose to not bring their phone to school. We did find some students went to extreme measures to access their phones, and a couple chose to tamper with the pouch.  Still others discovered that other magnets were able to release the mechanism. We did have a few parents e-mail to say they didn't want their students participating. 


After the two days, we asked students to reflect on their experience. (As I write this, the pilot is ongoing. I will try to update with results of the student reflections later.) Here are a few of the questions we asked them to ponder:

  1. How often did you reach for your phone during the 2-day pilot? (Estimate)
  2. Please rate your level of discomfort (FOMO = "Fear of Missing Out") during the 2-day pilot?  (0 = "None" and 10 = "Significant")
  3. Were there any SCHOOL RELATED (classroom) activities that were more difficult without your phone?
  4. In what classes? (check all that apply)
  5. Were there any SOCIAL SITUATIONS that were more difficult without your phone?
  6. In what situations? (check all that apply)
    • Connecting with Friends
    • Connecting with Family
    • Coordinating After-School Activities
    • Other
  7. Overall, to what degree do you think these pouches are HELPFUL to maintaining focus during the school day?   (0 = "Not at All" and 10 = "Extremely Helpful")

Media Coverage

On day 5, a local TV station came to do a story on the pilot. Note at the end, kids who still had their phones made a connection with a local celebrity!

Now What?

If we are going to have kids reflect on their use, and they find they have a lot of anxiety around access to their phone, what can they do? I put together this resource for parents and students to consider as they reflect on the activity. 


Final Thoughts 

As I stated previously, there are many great ways that mobile technology can benefit, but there are also addictive behaviors and distractions that can take away from the learning process. The teachers who are exploring this and are looking for ways to mitigate the distraction. Those featured in the news story are doing some great projects involving digital age learning in their classrooms to provide pathways for students to access content, engage in the content and express their learning. Hopefully this activity will raise awareness in students on how mobile technology impacts their learning and take steps to ensure that they avoid distracting behaviors.


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