BYOD – Narrowing the Digital Divide?

Lisa is a student who hates math but loves to text her friends during class.  In fact, she’s had over five to seven referrals to the office for inappropriate technology use.  The administrator in charge constantly gives detentions, threatens suspension, and calls the parent often to harangue the circumstance demanding change.  Lisa is amused at the attention and moves on to her next class, where she’ll pull out the phone and continue the same infraction.

Discussions within the administrator ranks become tense when the topic of cell phone use in the classroom  is posed. In some circles cell phones are viewed as a distraction while others see them as a viable solution to one-to-one access.

The larger consideration is which student has full, partial or no access to pertinent 21st century skills. The Pew Research Center claims that 91% of adults have cell phones compared with 78% of youth ages 12-17 according to a 2013 study; only 37% have smartphones.  With increasing use, educators are utilizing cell phones in the classroom for simple tasks such as keeping track of homework in calendar apps, note taking with complex note taking apps, and sending and receiving tweets from teachers or co-students.  The little-noticed statistic is Pew’s findings that “Non-owners [of cell phones] were younger teens (especially boys), Hispanics, and those living in poorer households.”  The question – can the use of cell phones in the classroom broaden or narrow the digital divide?

With increasing frequency, counties around the state are adopting or adapting a cell phone policy to address the educational technology fluency in the classroom, but the difficulty is student access.  With the implications of the Pew results, the digital divide will continue to expand with the “poorer households” not having devices unless school districts attend to funding.

Question for discussion: how does your school district fund a cache of devices for those who do not have access?

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