Harry Potter and the Forbidden Device

“Many of the class exchanged gloomy looks; the order ‘devices away’ had never yet been followed by a lesson they had found interesting.”


The actual unedited passage from Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn’t discuss devices but wands.  Yet, the concept is the same.


Rowling’s portrayal of Professor Dolores Umbridge’s teaching methods is eerily familiar to some of us. We see educators who have “no technology” policies with “cell jails” in their classrooms and schools that ban mobile phones and tablets.  “Devices away” is too often the go-to phrase for many.


Umbridge is the perfect stereotype of a bad teacher, a cautionary tale for all instructors. Her philosophy is that students should sit down, be quiet, put wands away, read books silently, and memorize material,  which will later be assessed in a standard written test.  Application and experimentation are unimportant and unnecessary. As Umbridge explains to her students, “…a theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about” (Rowling 189).


In our world, we might as well tell students that: “A theoretical knowledge of how to use technology will be more than sufficient once you enter the ‘real world’ and begin to use it in your chosen field.”


On the whole, Umbridge’s teaching style focuses on this concept of learning in class, not real-world application of that knowledge, nor how the skills students acquire will translate to their lives as adults. She believes, therefore, there is no need for wands to be used in class, just as many teachers today believe that there is no need for students to use technology in class.


Are we failing our students by not teaching them good digital citizenship?  Do we forget that they must also learn when using a device is appropriate and when it is not? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are incredible tools for marketing and for personal branding. They should be learning to leverage these, not ignore them.  Even more importantly, we may be envisioning them “just knowing” because we’ve explained the theories.


We expect our students to come to class, ignore the most interesting tool in the room, look at black words on white paper, and be engaged and enthralled, the very same students who flip screens and scroll through websites faster and faster each day, devouring information at an unparalleled rate.  


When asked, students prefer using devices in class (no, not just to Snapchat when they shouldn’t be).  They understand the value of the blended learning environment.  Even in Harry’s fictional world, the students revolt; they beg for a different teaching style, better experiential assignments, but Umbridge scolds them, “… you are not qualified to decide what the ‘whole point’ of any class is.  Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised our new program of study.  You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way”(Rowling 188).


Oh my… education is now risk-free.  We avoid using magic technology because it might be dangerous, even scary, but no one learns in a risk-free environment. Our learning ceases as soon as we stop failing.

Last year, an international student studying here in America made a point to discuss her experience with two different education systems in an essay:  

“[It] is a strict education system, which means students fight for their exam score so hard,  just like zombies saw a living human.  They don’t care about projects… experimental activities because the idea [that] a high score equals a good life has been planted in their minds for centuries.”

According to the student, phones and laptops are rarely, if ever, allowed in class. She was so surprised that devices were an everyday part of many of her classes here in America.


Like her, all children want to be active and engaged; they want to participate; they want to be prepared for the real world. Wands technology shouldn’t be banned because it “is not related strictly to the subjects [teachers] are paid to teach” (416). We need to embrace it, support and share best practices, and most importantly, prepare students to use it responsibly– a skill that will be paramount to their success as adults.


Nikki Morrell

Educator at Lake Mary Preparatory School

Nikki Morrell is a freelance writer, poet, and black belt. She holds a B.A. in English from King College and a Masters of Humanities from Tiffin University. Morrell teaches at both a small private college preparatory school in Orlando, FL, and at Tiffin University. Over the past twelve years, she has taught English literature and writing, dance, cheer, and drama. Her childhood was spent in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee reading everything she could get her hands on and telling ghost stories around a campfire. These days, most of the telling takes place in the virtual world.