Why I’m asking Santa for a watch

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I haven’t worn a watch in about three years. Recently, I had cause to dig through some of the clutter in the study and look for the one I used to wear. I hoped to find it and replace the battery, but it was not there. It is now a former watch, lost, destroyed or dwelling somewhere in the twilight of my world.

Recently, Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales, announced that mobile phones would be banned in government primary schools from the start of next year. There are two clear reasons for the ban. The first is cognitive – mobile phones are a distraction from whatever task teachers wish students to focus their attention on. For those familiar with the language of Cognitive Load Theory, mobile phones are a source of extraneous i.e. unnecessary and counterproductive cognitive load. The second reason is affective – mobile phones can be a source of stress. Real-world bullying can be mitigated by avoiding the bullies, but a child is never out of reach of virtual bullies if they have a phone in hand.

Michael Carr-Gregg, a respected psychologist, ran the review in New South Wales and lent his weight to the new policy. It’s hard to argue with.

Similar bans and restrictions are occurring across the world as education bureaucracies grow aware of the issue and try to turn back the clock – or watch – to a time before iPhones in schools. France banned mobile phones and smart watches from schools back in September and I keep seeing similar bans in individual schools being mentioned on Twitter.

We have reached this watershed because of the results of a community-wide, collective and ongoing analysis of the positive and negative effects. Five years ago, it was plausible to believe that these devices would herald a new era in learning. Children would be able to use them to interact with lesson materials and personalise the learning experience. But it never really happened. Smartphones have limited value for setting multiple choice quizzes or for taking photos of improvised board work, but these are hardly revolutionary and the same ends can be accomplished by other means.

On the other hand, the negative effect of phones on a generation who no longer talk to each other at lunch time are clear to anyone who visits a school without restrictions in place. And those are just the more obvious negative effects.

And so my own school has introduced restrictions. And it would hardly be acceptable, in such circumstances, for me to check my phone during lessons in order to tell the time, as has become my habit. And as all teachers know, you cannot rely on the clock in the classroom. It is deceitful. It is not your friend.

So that’s why I’m asking Santa for a watch this year.


8 thoughts on “Why I’m asking Santa for a watch

  1. I would agree with all of this except the bit about Michael Carr-Gregg being a respected psychologist. On some issues he makes sense but he talks an awful lot of rubbish on other matters. He just seems to be the permanent go-to man for the media on any child-related issues.

  2. Ryan A says:

    I don’t see why any restrictions placed on students’ use of mobile phones
    at school would need to apply equally to the faculty.

    There might be other valid reasons to restrict teacher phone use, but I don’t think this is necessarily one of them.

    • Given the reason of unavoidable mental distraction applies equally to all using a watch for the time makes sense for all of us. Of course it has to be an unsmart watch. I put mine on again after reading The Distracted Mind.

  3. Tom Burkard says:

    I agree with Greg. Children aren’t stupid–they know that the purpose of the ban is to eliminate distraction. Why should teachers be exempt? after all, they’re supposed to be teaching, not playing with their phones.

  4. Robert Westinghouse says:

    Agree – just penned and email to the Headmaster of our school. “If” they were educators, they would have never allowed smart phones in the first place,

  5. The amount of presumptuous accusations in the comments above is astounding, or p possibly revealing.
    The contention that there not only isn’t but can’t be a pedagogical positive from the use of mobile phones by teachers in classrooms is purely argument from ignorance, if I am being generous.
    The fact that some here either cannot envision any positive applications (which speaks to a lack of professional investigation), or only negative possibilities (which suggests that they either lack personal discipline and know that they would misuse them, or professional lack of courage in that they have seen colleagues misuse them and were unable to support there colleagues in improving their practice.)
    I regret the forceful tone of the above material, but that some modern teachers not only can’t see how to use this potential and would petition school leadership to ban such a tool requires a vigorous response.

    • Stan says:

      You don’t need to apologize for that. Your tone is not forceful at all. It is vague and hard to follow. Greg addresses that there maybe some upside but insists the distraction problem is sufficient for some restrictions up to using a wristwatch as a better way to keep track of time, that is all.

      To have some force behind a counter argument you have to show where the upside is greater than the problems associated with distractions. I think you’d find that any upside could be gained by carefully reducing an outright ban under some circumstances. But it would not be to check the time or use the phone as a calculator. For details on the extent of the social and mental distraction I suggest you read the book The Distracted Mind.

      You can get a lot of the main points just be searching on the title.

  6. Speaking of cognitive load, I had to run a powerpoint show produced by a colleague recently. It was to instruct a group of uni students in a particular process. When I came to a text heavy slide, I told them they could read it and gave them the ref to Sweller from the uni around the corner regarding cognitive load. Then silence while they read and absorbed!

    All done in good humour with a few smiles along the way .

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