Smartphones In The Classroom: The Good, The Bad, And The Plan
Compact. Lightweight. Powerful. Smartphones are the most sophisticated learning devices ever created.
But smartphone use in the classroom is tricky. On one hand, they give our students access and allow them to communicate with the world. On the other, they are the ultimate distraction device. How then, can we leverage phones in learning and minimize the distractions they present?
That was the question I kept asking myself for the last three days. The second trimester ended last Friday and I felt I needed to implement changes in my classroom. I didn't lose sleep, but I was anxious starting the new term with a new phone policy that would most likely get a lot of student pushback.
I've been doing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for two years now, and made progress with this strategy each year, but there are always issues. Social, texting, gaming; the temptation is always there and students often oblige. As someone who cannot imagine life without my iPhone, I understand many of the "phone behaviors" are habitual. They are part of the 21st century student's DNA at this point.
When I Starbucksed my classroom last summer, I realized that I have to adopt a nontraditional more flexible teaching philosophy in my new flexible seating classroom. And so I set out to make instruction student centered by applying the blended learning model, giving students more choices, and allowing the use of smartphones to access apps and the cyberspace.
It's been good, even great at times, but there are times when student phone use drives me nuts. My patience ran out. I got fed up with the constant reminders and reiterations that the phones must be put away when I am giving assignment directions, explaining concepts, or answering questions. I was going to blow, or I was going to say no more. NO MORE PHONES.
This is why I was anxious. I was about to tell my students that we'll just use Chromebooks to learn and their phones will be taken if I see them out during class. But then, just at the right time, I got an idea. As it was all happening in my head during prep today, I quickly threw the following together:
I was going to let my students help me come up with the new smartphone plan using Design Thinking! And I did.
I noticed that as they're rolling in, many students' faces are buried in their phone trying to take care of the last piece of business before class starts. I wanted to know what this business is. Not details, but some specifics. I promised I will not judge and I wrote down answers as students volunteered them. Group chats about happenings at school, checking grades, family and work related issues, studying, social media, and music/videos were the top answers. But my main realization was that THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT TO MY STUDENTS.
How do we validate all of the above, thus who my students are and what is important to them, and learn with minimal distractions? I realized that some distractions will still happen.
Students volunteered ideas on how some instruction can be adjusted and I noted those, but we settled on allowing 3 minutes at the beginning of class to finish "their business" and having a 5 minute brain break in the middle of class each day during which they could use their phone, talk, walk etc.
The More Work, Some Play Plan:
- Finish your business (Personal Use Okay) - 3 minutes
- Warm Up/Directions/Activity (School Use Only) ~ 25 minutes
- Brain Break (Personal Use Okay) - 5 minutes
- Finish Activity (School Use Only) - till done.
- Assignment Done Early And Well? Personal Use Okay!
My students liked this plan. They get what they want/need in reasonable doses and I get to help them learn. I have high hopes for the More Work, Some Play plan. And if bumps happen along the road? There's tomorrow, the rest of this week, and all the days that follow to tweak, adjust, and iterate.
Learning To Change. Changing To Learn.
Smartphones are powerful productivity, learning, and creation tools. Why can’t they be those things in the English, Science, Art, Math, or Social Studies class? We have the opportunity to show students how to use their smartphones in new ways to gain 21st century skills. We can fight phone use in class or we can learn how to leverage it.
I am still learning, but I know now that teachers must provide guidance in classroom phone use.
Smartphones can distract. They often do. Many teachers fight them. It’s a battle that cannot be won. But maybe, it doesn’t need to be a battle. Maybe students and teachers can collaborate and figure out how to use these awesome tools to learn concepts, practice problem solving and creativity, and gain social skills?
Students got distracted before we allowed phone use and will get distracted whether or not we implement a NO PHONES policy. That's the nature of the digital native beast. But maybe, just maybe, they will be less distracted if teachers let them take ownership of said phone use by allowing student input in a plan that takes into account their needs and benefits their learning.
As times change, students change, and so does learning. And education? The teachers need to learn to change and accept that change is the ultimate goal of all learning. Can you handle that?
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.