School administrators in Salinas, Calif., recently banned the use of cellular phones after a student was caught trying to use his cell phone camera to photograph a quiz and send it to a friend. In Santa Fe, N.M., high school officials also considered banning cell phones when a student used a cell phone camera to take a photo under another student's skirt. Such events, and the proliferation of online sites filled with pictures shot surreptitiously in locker rooms and bathrooms, are prompting districts to reevaluate their cell phone policies.
At the same time, a 15-year-old boy in Clifton, N.J., used a camera phone to snap a photo of a man in a car who solicited him, and the car's license plate, which led quickly to the man's arrest. And police in Georgia used a cell phone photo taken by an exposure victim to charge a former high school principal with public indecency. And when a school bus overturned in San Diego, injuring 16 students, the accident was documented immediately with a camera phone. The safety and security applications for cell phone cameras cannot be denied.
Challenges and Opportunities
Cell phones with built-in cameras are the fastest-selling consumer technology product ever developed, and the Consumer Electronics Association says last year's totals of 6.3 million camera phones in the U.S. will double this year, and reach 20 million units in 2005. Camera phones that cost $400 three years ago are now less than $100, and prices continue to drop. The Gartner research firm projects that 80 percent of cell phones will come with built-in cameras by 2006, making it impractical if not impossible for districts to keep camera cell phones out of schools. While many schools allow students to carry cell phones for emergencies and to communicate with home, units with cameras are almost indistinguishable, and heighten the potential for cheating, invasion of privacy, bullying and harassment. Furthermore, the ease with which photographs can be sent over the Internet and posted to Web sites raises additional concerns.
But in spite of school-related violations reported in the media, camera phones offer huge educational advantages that include compiling photo records of classroom activities, school performances, sports events and field trips. Camera phones can also be used for group projects, enhancing reports with visuals, and for self-expression through photo essays. In fact, that capability has led to the rapid development of online moblogs-mobile Web logs-such as Buzznet and TextAmerica, where users post cell phone photos directly to personal Web sites. Resources such as Reiter's report track such applications, and educators should not overlook these powerful applications.
While many states banned cell phones in schools in the early 1990s out of concern they would be used for drug sales and gang activities, those views changed after shootings and terrorist attacks made phone access crucial. California and Indiana repealed their bans on cell phones entirely, and a report from the Education Commission of the States indicates that states are leaving decisions about cell phone use to local policy-makers.
As a result, as one administrator put it, "responses are all over the map." Some schools extend existing policies to encompass camera phones-usu-ally requiring that they be turned off during school hours-while others prohibit the devices from classrooms, or from areas such as locker rooms. And schools such as New Jersey's Freehold Regional High School District ban "cell phones with cameras and other portable devices capable of storing and transmitting images" from school property at all times. Nevertheless, camera phones are here to stay, and your district needs to evolve policies that define appropriate as well as inappropriate use.
Buzznet Photoblog Community www.buzznet.com
Education Commission of the States www.ecs.org
Reiter's Camera Phone Report www.wirelessmoment.com
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the Univ. of Connecticut.