Option 3: Actually USE the smartphones

Door sign: Cell phone prohibited

Murphy & Beland’s recent study is making the rounds online, particularly among those who are eager to find reasons to ban learning technologies in classrooms. The economists found that banning mobile phones helped improve student achievement on standardized test scores, with the biggest gains seen by low-achieving and at-risk students. Here are my thoughts on this…

The outcome measure is standardized test score improvement. Is that all you care about or do you have a bigger, more complex vision for student learning? For instance, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are difficult to assess with a standardized test. Most schools I know didn’t adopt their learning technology initiatives for the sole purpose of test score improvement. (if they did, how sad is that?)

The accepted dichotomy in this study and the media seems to be 1) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are banned, or 2) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are present (and, presumably, distracting). Neither of these two options addresses the fact that decontextualized, low-level work isn’t very interesting or engaging to many (most?) students, particularly those who already find that traditional schooling doesn’t meet their needs very well. So, faced with the opportunity to do something else, many students do. Youth today aren’t any different than when we were young and adults made snarky, woeful comments about us. They just have different opportunities and resources. How many times were you bored in high school? Lots, so admit that if you’d had access to a smartphone or your friends on Facebook back then, you would have turned that way too. I know that I sure would have. Let’s stop blaming students and/or demonizing technology as an evil succubus and address the real problem, which is disengaging learning environments. The solution to that problem is not to try and force students to pay attention to and comply with our boring lessons. That’s not teaching students ‘grit.’ That’s an indictment of our failure to differently imagine learning and teaching.

How about a third option, that of doing higher-level learning and USING the smartphones to help with that? That sounds pretty good to me. Why isn’t this ever brought up as an option to be considered?

Image credit: Cell phone prohibited, SmartSign

7 Responses to “Option 3: Actually USE the smartphones”

  1. “How about a third option, that of doing higher-level learning and USING the smartphones to help with that? That sounds pretty good to me. Why isn’t this ever brought up as an option to be considered?”

    Sounds like a future research study!

  2. This is a difficult issue for classroom teachers in today’s age. The usage of cell phones within the classroom would typically be a terrible idea no matter how you look at it. However, with so many school districts lacking the technology necessary for students to remain competitive with their counterparts, cell phones offer an extreme amount of technology that many students can provide themselves. If used correctly students would have access to the internet in real-time with information that a teacher could then utilize for whatever topic is being discussed in the class that day. Of course the issue of keeping students on task and focused on what is being discussed in class would be of major concern. Possibly creating an application that would require students to be logged in so that the teacher can visually see who is utilizing the information in the class and who is not on task would be one option.

    • Viewing classrooms as closed spaces, walled off from all outside learning opportunities, creates a resultant need to eliminate possible outside connections through power and control battles with our students who struggle to understand why we educators fail to see the power of connected learning.

      Why wouldn’t we go the other direction instead?

      • Is it ok to teach the students to be in the moment? To see what is around them? To communicate face-to-face? To listen? To respond to a question with verbal clarity? To develop higher level questions on the spot? To fully engage 100 percent without outside distractions? To develop their mind, thinking power, and emotional intelligence just using their god-given powers with no assistance from outside help (because they might not always have access to technology)? and letting them believe that they can think for themselves BEFORE they use technology?

  3. My students use their smartphones in class everyday. In fact we just finished making greenscreen presentations on Canadian Explorers using an iPhone. Hopefully using iPhones in class will help eliminate standardized testing. This may sound radical to some, but here in Surrey BC we are revolutionizing assessment by Making Learning Visible. We are abandoning traditional report cards in favor of continuous reporting through student online portfolios, parental emails, and daily snapshots into learning. We are a large district so implementation is gradual but the parents and classes involved are pleased with this new approach. Students upload their own work. Classroom blogs are common here and many elementary students have their own blog sites, YouTube channels and Twitter feeds. Last year I was honored to be chosen ISTE2014 outstanding teacher and while at ISTE had the opportunity to meet many teachers. I was surprised to find that although many had abundant access to technology in class. ( many 1:1) they did not have the freedom. opportunity and support to use it. Here in Surrey we are lucky to have leadership that encourages innovation, creativity, and collaboration in the classroom. Indeed this year they were awarded the ISTE2015 Sylvua Charp Award for leadership innovation. Time to move forward and leave standardized testing in the past where it belongs and encourage students to use their phones productively. They have the world at their fingertips and a tool in their pocket that allows them to explore create and communicate. If we want students to be capable, forward thinking leaders we must teach them to be so.

  4. Linda, it sounds like you have a wonderful setup in your public school…and with 38+ kids in your classroom. YOu have made great strides teaching technology as a tool, not a hindrance. The diversity makeup (social, racial, intelligence, 90%+ Free/reduced lunch) in your classes must love the relief from the blah-blah of all the other classes. Congrats

  5. When I allowed my middle school students to use there smartphones for group investigations and as a tool for exchanging important information I saw a higher level of engagement a deeper willingness to manage group dinamics. But then again, there’s less and less project work being done in schools because of testing.

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