Mobile Phone and Digital Devices in the Classroom: Learning Tool or Distraction

Globally, mobile technology use has increased over the years and the use of it has become an integral part in the average persons’ communicative lifestyle. According to Parsons, mobile subscriptions exceed 6 billion subscriptions globally. Similarly, Ipsos and Verizon found out that adopting mobile phones with smart technologies has increased fast which also coincided with a more utilization of their Internet capabilities. People today are more connected than ever.

Within the school system, due to the global proliferation, more and more students are bringing cell phones to class. Even junior and senior high school students have cell phones in their pockets and backpacks.The reality is that nobody can stop students from bringing phones to school. And, teachers are increasingly using mobile phones to reach out to students at all levels.

The current policy in some schools is a ban on the use of mobile phones within first and second cycle institutions. However, the increasingly educational use of mobile phones in the school system opens the debate about whether or not students should have cellphones in school. It also brings up the question of whether it’s possible for technology to exist in the classroom as a learning tool—rather than simply a distraction.

The question is, given the above scenario, what should be the position of school administrators and educational policy makers when it comes to the use of mobile phones and other digital devices in the school system. Should it be embraced or locked away.

While policy makers have their own opinion on this issue, the truth is, these devices are here to stay. Most school administrators recognize that personal communication through mobile technologies is an accepted part of everyday life and, this is likely to evolve to a higher level as society prepares to embrace new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IOT), Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence.

Given these developments and the global movement where mobile technology is at the centre of almost everything we do, we can no longer continue to implement a policy of keeping mobile phones away from students within the educational system. Mobile technology is at the centre of teaching and learning and it facilitates anytime, anywhere learning.

Cell phones give students access to tools and apps that can help them complete and stay on top of their class work. These tools can also teach students to develop better study habits, like time management and organization skills.Several educational apps are now available to be uploaded on mobile phones and used as a learning tool. YouTube, TeacherTube, Khan Academy, and a variety of other video On-Demand learning resources are all available to be accessed through mobile phones.

QR code and other classroom tools are being used by teachers to share class content such as course outlines, assignments, and other course materials with their students.

Mobile phones is being used to provide students with immediate visual feedback by using  classroom response tools like Poll Everywhere and Socrative. These free tools allow students to text or click in their answers individually or in groups and projected on screen in class. The responses students provide are then graphed and projected anonymously to the entire class. Tools such as Padlet are used to facilitate small group in class discussion. Others such as Google Forms are increasingly being used as a classroom assessment tool to formatively assess students and to provide instant feedback. Student responses are time stamped and arranged in a Google spreadsheet.

Mobile learning (m-learning) has now become the next big thing and has emerged as an unobtrusive way to learn and access educational tools and material that enlarges access to education for all. It offers learners flexibility in how, when and where they learn.More and more frequently, learners are turning first to their mobile phones when they have a question or need to look up something.

Also, game-based teaching techniques (called gamification) has emerged to boost student engagement, build critical thinking skills by requiring students to plan and strategize, and clarify abstract concepts that may be hard to grasp from reading and lecture. This has created a new opportunities for collaboration and teamwork.

Teachers use games to keep students engaged in the learning process, to make instruction easier to digest for students with varying learning styles, to get an idea of how students are doing that may not be reflected in test scores, and to boost morale in the classroom.

Many students are already active gamers. They may play games on their phones (such as “Angry birds” which is on most mobile phones), or via social media or other Internet-based game platforms.

School administrators and education policy makers should be mindful of the fact that this generation of students are digital natives and are growing up with these tools.The educational needs of today’s “digital natives”, students are completely different from when we were in college. Research shows that they are technology oriented, globally minded, socially networked, and digital learners. Call them Generation Y, Echo Boomers, or the Millennials; they are armed with smartphones, laptops, and other technological gadgets.

We should be mindful of the fact that sixty percent of the wealth in the developed nations is created from technological knowledge. Due to this, there is the need to expose school children to all forms of technology at an early age or risk being left behind.

Schools need to implement Acceptable Use Policy for mobile phones and other digital devices that provide all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, etc.) guidelines and instructions for the appropriate use of mobile phones within the school system.

Nana Prof. Osei K. Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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