Friday, April 06, 2018

Smartphones in the classroom?

Image source: Barrie Today.
Everyone in my generation managed to get thorough primary, secondary, and third-level education without the use of a smartphone, or a mobile phone of any type. Indeed I had a giggle to myself when at a 40-year school reunion last December I learned after the Reunion Mass that some of the guys at the back were looking up the football results on their phones. Would I have done the same if I had a smartphone 40 years ago? Totally! Would I have used a smartphone to look up "dirty" pictures in class if I could get away with it? Most probably yes. Would I have googled a word for a definition? Absolutely.

And there is the dilemma - where is the line between educational use and misuse of any device in the classroom? I teach at third level and there is no way that I will have a rule in my classes banning smartphone usage. Indeed they are on many desks during class with students multitasking checking messages and communicating with friends and family. They also use their phones for classwork - but I would guess that this is a minor part of their usage. I'm guessing that the most common use of smartphones in my classes is for translations by students for whom English is not a first language. Most don't need to be told to keep their phones on silent, and in general my classes are not interrupted by phones. Several of my classes, and an increasing number in the college, require students to have a laptop anyway - so for me there is no argument about smartphone usage in third level classes. It is a behaviour issue and as long as you inform students at the beginning of the semester what is and is not appropriate - students usually go along with this.

There's probably no argument about usage of smartphones at primary level as most students will not own a smartphone - though maybe some 11 and 12 year olds might have them. But this will be an argument in the future as smartphones become even more ubiquitous than they are now.

Second level seems to be the battle ground at this time. In yesterday's Irish Independent Ralph Reigel writes that "There are huge issues around the rush to digitise classrooms" - it appears that there are different policies in our schools around smartphone usage. Some ban them outright while others don't. A key point for me in this article is the quote from a teacher who said that "it will be difficult for authorities to order controls while, at the same time, supporting the use of tablets in classroom" - too true!

Writing in, Rodney Jackson makes the point that "to deny today’s cutting edge technology from a classroom instead of embracing and exploiting it seems to be a draconian, counterintuitive measure". He also tells us that to "deny that the technological reality of today has any usefulness in the classroom is shortsighted and uninspired. As a citizen, parent and employer I expect more from our educators". Whatever career students go on to after school/college will require the use of a smartphone - they can be used for instant access to maps, definitions, case-studies. In contrast, textbooks get outdated very quickly.

Smartphones are learning devices too - let's not ban them and instead try a little harder to incorporate them into the classroom.

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