Managing Student Device Usage at Home and School

October 17, 2023

Brooke McGuire

Ed.D. in Leadership

Image of students using devices at school

As cell phone bans re-enter schools across the country, it’s clear that the cell phone debate continues. The abundance of evidence correlating cell phone usage with a negative impact on academic achievement seems to support these actions. However, when it comes to cell phones and electronic devices in general, the potential for them to enhance engagement in the learning process cannot be denied. Banning the use of something so appealing for students might be a short-term fix, but it’s not a long-term solution to helping young people learn to self-manage their device usage.

Ever since technology became more accessible, its rapid evolvement is quicker than the adults in young people’s lives can provide helpful parameters and guidelines. The infatuation with having information and communication instantly has only increased the obsession and desire for instant gratification. Also contributing to the problem, is the fact that some adults aren’t the best role models. They may be dependent on devices for their jobs, or they may struggle with monitoring their own device usage, which makes it challenging to teach young people how.

So, how do we counteract the negative effects to promote device use for positive purposes? And, how do we teach students to be independent with their device usage in order to become adults who aren’t addicted to screens?

Students need device usage parameters and guidelines for school and home.

While adults don’t always want to be responsible for telling young people exactly how, when or where to use their devices, free reign can quickly get out of hand. At school, students may not be allowed to have phones out when directions are being given, but appropriate cell phone usage could be combined with skills like appropriate communication (i.e. eye contact and focus when talking to someone). At home, no phones at bedtime is generally a good rule of thumb. And, you can encourage young people to leave devices out of the bedroom (or at least across the room if they need it for an alarm).

Explain why device usage boundaries are important.

Combine these guidelines with an explanation of why, and, ideally, involve kids in a conversation that helps them understand. Openly discuss what the goal of having boundaries is, so they understand the purpose behind your requests. For example, ask kids what the purpose of school is (answer: to learn), and ask if their phones help them with school (answer: sometimes). This is why it’s important to be aware of when it’s helpful (answer: when looking up information) and when it’s not helpful (answer: when playing games). It can even be a fun homework assignment for students to do things like track how long it takes them to complete a task with a phone nearby versus with their phone in a different room.

While the focus on devices at school should be more about limiting distractions and using technology to support the learning process, at home, those challenges shift. We have all been sucked into an app and been shocked to find out how much time has passed mindlessly scrolling through videos or looking at pictures. Setting timers can be a great way to help everyone monitor their screen time. At the very least, put the device down when a timer goes off and take a short break to encourage students to move on to a healthier activity. Not only can you monitor usage, but you can also set parental controls.

So, how can devices be used as an advantage at school?

When it comes to positive uses of technology in the classroom, there are so many ways to use phones and devices to promote academic achievement. They increase accessibility by providing instantaneous access to information in an understandable format, which in turn, improves a student’s effectiveness and efficiency. Giving students very specific and clear tasks, possibly using specific tools, can help keep them focused and on track. Smart phones have so many organizational tools to support executive functioning skills (i.e. calendars and timers) and efficiency features (i.e. taking photos of notes or reminders) that we should be capitalizing on instead of banning devices altogether. Teachers can use ChatGPT to design lessons incorporating technology, Parlay Genie for higher-level discussion prompts, Curipod for interactive presentations or Magic School for differentiation ideas or translation and countless other possibilities.

Instead of ignoring or shunning technology, the best thing we as adults can do is teach students how to use such tools appropriately. Even the best artificial intelligence tools can produce errors that humans can correct. Teaching students to use such tools as a starting point can help them produce more quality work and learn in the process while being resourceful but also using critical thinking skills and what they’ve learned.

American College of Education offers education programs that can help you lead a classroom.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Brooke McGuire
Brooke McGuire, Ed.D. in Leadership

Brooke has taught in a variety of settings, working everything from a service-learning summer program geared toward incoming first graders to a high school program for struggling readers. She's currently the director of teaching and learning at her district.

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