Outside the classroom, students spend a lot of time on their cell phones checking social media and communicating with family and friends. However, this doesn’t always stop when they enter the classroom. This presents both concerns and opportunities for teachers. Many teachers and school districts have rules against student use of mobile devices during class time, but the tide is shifting as they rethink their positions? As mobile becomes increasingly prevalent and relied upon by students of all ages, leveraging this trend to boost classroom engagement may be a better option.
In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 78 percent of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers surveyed agree with the statement that new digital tools like the Internet, social media, and cell phones “encourage student creativity and personal expression.” Additionally, 96 percent agree they “allow students to share work with a wider and more varied audience” and 79 percent agree they “encourage greater collaboration among students.”
However, many teachers remain concerned that mobile devices are major distractions in the classroom and prevent students from fully engaging in class lessons. Studies show that students who text during a lecture frequently take lower-quality notes, retain less information, and score lower on tests when compared to students who do not text in class.
Even students believe that their mobile phone usage can negatively impact their education. One survey showed that 80 percent of students agree that it decreases their ability to pay attention. Other concerns by both students and teachers include the cost of devices and the lack of universal access to mobile devices among students despite their widespread use.
Even with these potential drawbacks, students and faculty across the board seem to have similarly high levels of interest in using mobile devices in the classroom to enhance learning. Still, the actual use of the devices in academics remains low, and schools are failing to adapt to using mobile quickly enough to meet student demand.
Looking at Things Differently
Students have been prone to distraction in classrooms for decades—mobile devices are just one more potential distractor. With or without them, teachers must engage students so that their classroom work provides enough value that distractions don’t matter. Increasingly, that’s the way teachers are beginning to look at the issue.
For example, a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Foundation Center at the Sesame Workshop reports that “just as Sesame Street helped transform television into a revolutionary tool for learning among young children four decades ago, advances in mobile technologies are showing enormous untapped educational potential for today’s generation.”
Also, results of EDUCAUSE research show some, albeit, slight movement in terms of instructors’ acceptance of mobile phone use in the classroom. It found 63 percent of students said their faculty ban or discourage the use of smartphones in class in 2015, compared with 69 percent in 2014 and 74 percent in 2013. These bans are also becoming increasingly futile as the lines between large-screen smartphones, tablets, and touchscreen laptops continue to blur.
Let’s Get Practical
So, how can mobile technology be applied practically in classroom settings? A few possibilities include text-response polling programs, individual mobile modules, and seamless cloud learning to provide immediate feedback.
Pew Research found that the average student sends about 60 text messages a day, which makes text-response programs an effective way to utilize mobile phones. These websites allow for interactive and formative learning by providing just-in-time feedback for assessment.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) provide individual mobile modules that can be completed on mobile devices. Also, seamless cloud learning allows students to transition from working in the classroom to working at home and everywhere else.
In addition to introducing new tools and forms of communications, it is important to establish clear policy language that can be added to syllabi. Policies for mobile device use should be evaluated with feedback from students and updated to fit the needs of each classroom.
Mt. San Jacinto College in California provides an example of constructive and specific policy language that it has in effect:
Appropriate Use of Technology:
– Tape Recordings of Lectures or Discussions
– Note Taking on Laptops or iPads
– Use of Smartphones to Calendar Events/Assignments
– Use of Devices to Complete Quick Google Searches for Pertinent Information
If students engage in the “inappropriate” use of electronics within the class, then their right to use these devices in the future will be removed.
Inappropriate Use of Technology Within the Classroom:
– Texting Your Friends or Reading Texts While in Class
– Sending or Reading Personal Emails
– Surfing the Net for Non-Class Purposes. For example: Checking in with Facebook or other Social Media, Shopping Online During Class, Reading Online Information not Connected to the Class Materials and Topics, or Paying Your Bills or Checking Financial Accounts.
Takeaway: Schools, classes, and teachers are all different. There is no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach or answer to the question of how to address mobile technology in the classroom. Each teacher will need to make his or her own determination. At a minimum, it may pay to push yourself to be open minded to the potential for positive applications of mobile in the classroom. After all, these devices are here to stay.
1. “Pew Report Illustrates Impact of Digital Technologies on Student Writing” National Writing Project. July 16, 2013.
2. “The Use of Mobile Devices in the College Classroom” The Bok Blog. September 17, 2015.
3. “ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology” EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research. 2015.
4. “Faculty Alert: You Can’t Put the Mobile Genie Back in the Bottle” Campus Technology. March 8, 2016.
5. “Mobile Devices in the Classroom” District Administration. November 2009.
6. “Do Mobile Devices in the Classroom Really Improve Learning Outcomes?” Tech Financials. March 31, 2015.
7. “Managing Mobile Devices in the Classroom” University of Denver Office of Teaching and Learning. 2014.
8. “Faculty Guidelines for Student Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom” Mt. San Jicento College. October 2013.
9. “Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media” DML Central. April 9, 2012.