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Education Opinion

Before We Let Them Power Up in Class ...

By Nancy Flynn — August 08, 2011 1 min read

When one of our science teachers came to me last spring and told me we didn’t have enough headphones to do the online state science test, I told him, “We have 600 pairs of headphones floating around this school. Just tell the students to take them out of their pockets and plug them into the computers.”

We also have close to 600 cellphones - most of which are smartphones - floating around as well. We keep debating about how to use these phones in the classroom as these devices would certainly augment the level of technology available in classrooms.

Now, I don’t in any way, shape, or form believe that smartphones shouldn’t be used in the classroom, as I’m sure the kids could teach us a thing or two about using them to improve instruction, but as we allow kids to use these smartphones as part of the curriculum, we open up a whole new can of worms regarding liability for the devices. Currently, students bring their devices to school at their own risk, and staff and administrators will not be held responsible for those devices that are lost, broken, stolen, or confiscated. However, once we tell students to take them out and use them, how do we absolve ourselves from the liability of them being lost, broken, or in most cases, stolen? I already have plenty of parents who think it is my job to recover their child’s lost or stolen phone or ipod, when it’s explicitly stated that the devices are not to be used during school hours, and that the student is ultimately responsible for its whereabouts.

If the phone gets broken while using it to produce a video that is part of an assignment, who is liable? I can just hear the parents now: “You want my son to use his own phone during class to create this video that he has to do as part of his assignment, and his project partner drops it and cracks the screen and you want me to spend another $200 to replace it?” Or, in the same project scenario, the phone gets stolen and we can’t recover it, the parent holds the school responsible for its replacement because they say the school told him to take it out.

As we gear up for the new school year, how do we as administrators take advantage of using the students’ own technology in the classroom without a creating a liability nightmare for the administrators and school?

Nancy Flynn
August 2011

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