I’m currently conducting an ethnographic study of two Advanced Placement English classrooms: one at a high-performing, the other at a low-performing high school. While my empirical focus is the use of language within these classrooms, I can’t help but notice how cell phones are being used in similar ways in both classrooms. I’ve seen many instances of pro-academic cell phone behavior, and just as many of subversive mobile conduct.
“Who can Wikipedia the fastest at the teacher’s request?” is a game played actively in both classrooms.
“Who can Instagram a photo of a student sleeping during class” is a favorite in the larger class of 28 students.
Passing notes via text message is done discreetly in the smaller class that hosts only 17 students.
I’ve also seen an iPhone handed off from student to student around a table (out of view beneath the desks), with each student stealing a glance at the screen before passing the device forward with a nod.
But of all the mobile conduct I’ve observed this semester, none has intrigued me as much as the impromptu jam session in the moments before the bell rings. That’s right, jam session, as in musical instruments. Students are downloading apps that turn their phones into pianos, guitars, kazoos, xylophones and anything else that makes melody (or noise). What’s more they’re using their precious unofficial chat time not for last-minute gossip, but for last-minute symphonic interaction. When I asked them about it, they told me they were trying to imitate the Sprint commercial where they play their cell phones.
Stranger things have happened. I wonder what’s next. Two weeks from today, I’ll letcha know.