Can Smartphones Help Learning in Class?

November 20, 2018

Over the past decade or so mobile phones have developed from merely a voice-and-text communication device to the powerful mini-computers we now call “smart” - and for good reason!

Plugged-In

Today, the phone in our pocket has more computing power than the machines that took mankind to the moon. For some, its primary use is for entertainment (aka a serious distraction to students’ attention and focus). For others, it may be to check on stocks, plan a date night, or schedule an upcoming vacation. For most of us, we use our tech for a little bit of everything. Whether we feel comfortable with the advancement of technology into our everyday lives or not, we cannot deny its presence. It is imperative that we prepare our students for our increasingly connected world.

Tech-y Tools

Smartphones and other connected devices in the classroom can be a tool that enables learning. Among other things, mobile phones can:

  1. Elevate participation. Smartphone apps can be great for research and for group exercises that boost class participation and cooperative learning.
  2. Improve literacy. Studies have shown that smartphones play a role in improving literacy rates. Keep in mind that literacy is multi-faceted, and there are many ways of engaging with written text. Younger students may enjoy translating passages into different languages, reading poems together, listening to audiobooks, or creating a classroom newspaper or magazine. Older students may benefit from expressing themselves through blogs and website posts, writing scripts for a classroom play or group home movie, or adapting older-English novels into Modern English. The key is to remember that reading can be fun (much to the surprise of some students). Keep in mind that class assignments are ideally both demanding and accessible. This is to achieve the "+1 zone of proximal development" which keeps students genuinely engaged as they master specific material. This “zone” involves challenge. When students are engaged, they want to learn more.
  3. Facilitate communication. Smartphones offer a super-easy solution to the communication challenges teachers face today, and they can be used to provide real-time feedback which furthers class inquiry and participation. Digital classrooms should include discussion forums to elicit student responses. Online tools may also be used to hand out classwork, issue grades, and communicate with students and faculty alike!
  4. Facilitate communication. Smartphones offer a super-easy solution to the communication challenges teachers face today, and they can be used to provide real-time feedback which furthers class inquiry and participation. Digital classrooms should include discussion forums to elicit student responses. Online tools may also be used to hand out classwork, issue grades, and communicate with students and faculty alike!

Still skeptical? If you’re wondering about the best ways to incorporate smartphones in the classroom in order to maximize student learning, here is some sound advice:

  • Know your phone

Smartphones today can be used for many activities helpful to students, such as note-taking, editing, photography, filming, browsing, reading, and research. What else can you imagine a smartphone can do to further learning? (Whatever you're imagining - there's an app for that.)

  • Make an agreement

Discuss and develop essential agreements with your students regarding smartphone use in class. Include them in the conversation that determines what’s allowed, what’s not, and what are the consequences for breaching the agreement. This can empower students while instilling a sense of responsibility and ownership.

  • Plan ahead and coach properly

When classwork instruction calls for smartphone use, tasks need to be well-planned in advance and students need to know how to use their devices properly. Provide explicit guidelines. Before any projects and reports, you may want to give a lesson on how to find trustworthy primary source material online. (Students need to know how to find articles, scholarly journals, studies, etc, instead of relying solely on secondary sources for their information.)

  • Monitor & Revise

While many schools have already adopted BYOD (bring your own device), policies allowing mobile phone/tablet use in the classroom is still uncharted territory for many educators. Monitor your students’ usage behavior in relation to their progress, and DO revise your essential agreements as necessary.

  • Suggested ways to monitor: ban certain websites, filter search capabilities/search result removals, and block access to sites (like Facebook, Instagram, etc that students will not need at school).

Hall Monitor

Ironically, the very apps that feed our desire for interaction inhibit our ability to do so in the real world. Applications and software such as “app blockers” help us regulate what and who our students see online.

In order for us to take advantage of the good that technology brings, we must acknowledge and address any hindrances. Though social media offers many communicative conveniences, it has prevented social development. Though an aid in the classroom, too much technology may also put our students at a disadvantage when young people lack the ability to deal with social interaction, particularly confrontation. Be sure to balance technological exercises with face to face group activity and collaboration.

Harness the Power of Learning

The constant development of technology is affecting every aspect of our lives, including the way we learn and teach. Today, information is literally one click away.

Harness that power for learning, and grow with your kids. Educate yourself with knowledge and know-how to incorporate technology in your classroom, and always have a specific learning purpose in mind.

When leveraged smartly, smartphones can be a helpful and empowering teaching and learning tool for any educator.


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