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My Rambling Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

Educators Must Embrace the Smartphone

With all the news about banning phones in schools I feel the need to add my perspective. As part of my masters studies I chose this topic to research and feel the need to share it here… Please feel free to comment your views below.

“The phones at the Good Old office”by Hugo Wetterberg is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Ninety-one per cent of Australian teens have a mobile phone in their pocket (Roy Morgan Research, 2016).  Nevertheless, teachers and schools have historically viewed the mobile phone as a disruption to learning and as a result, have banned the phone from the classroom (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013).  Mobile phones are no longer just for making and receiving calls.  They have evolved into smartphones with a large number of applications and increased functionality (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013).  As such, for many students, they have replaced alarm clocks, cameras, books and diaries with this versatile and mobile device (Walsh, White, & Young, 2008).  Within an educational setting, smartphones with their ubiquitous access can increase student engagement, motivation and productivity.  However, many teachers are reluctant to incorporate mobile phone usage into their classrooms due to their own personal beliefs and lack of agency and capability. Educators must embrace the smartphone and integrate mobile technology into the classroom.

Engagement is a predominant factor in a student’s success at school (Hazel, Vazirabadi, & Gallagher, 2013).  Students exhibit engagement through their attendance and active participation in class; this, along with the work that they complete both in and out of the classroom, determines motivation (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).  Technology, in particular, the use of smartphones, is one area that ‘can improve student engagement, motivation and productivity’ (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013, p. 296).  According to Nikolopoulou (2018), students themselves believe that ‘mobile devices improved and fostered their motivation to study’ (p. 503).  Walker (2013) also found that students used many of the features of their smartphones and regularly find ‘creative ways to employ these features in their schoolwork, both at home and at school’ (p. 11), regardless of whether the phones were permissible at school or not.  Smartphones facilitate many different pedagogical strategies, including student-centred (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013), authentic learning (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013), personalised learning (Hartnell-Young & Vetere, 2008), student-created content (Hartnell-Young & Vetere, 2008), collaborative learning (Nouri, Cerratto-Pargman, Eliasson, & Ramberg, 2013), differentiation of instruction (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013) along with assessment and reflection (Markett, Arnedillo Sanchez, Weber, & Tangney, 2006).  Smartphones ‘have been referred to as the “Swiss army knife” of technology because they have a growing number of tools’ (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013, p. 296).  This collection of tools includes ready access to digital cameras, calculators, video and audio recorders, internet access, email and numerous apps that are valuable to classroom instruction and student learning.  By having access to these applications, students want to take responsibility for their learning (Mahesh, Jayahari, & Bijlani, 2016), leading to an increase in intrinsic motivation.  The use of a smartphone in the classroom allows students to ‘upgrade their knowledge in any field at anytime’ (Mahesh, Jayahari, & Bijlani, 2016, p. 88).  Mobile devices have instant access to the internet and can consequently respond quickly to learner’s impulses at any time and in any place (Walker, 2013).

Mobile devices have developed into high-tech computers with ubiquitous access to a plethora of data and information anytime, anywhere.  ‘Mobile phone users can connect to people worldwide while walking down the street’ (Keengwe, Schnellert, & Jonas, 2014, p. 443).  This ability to access a mobile network to conduct learning, access information quickly at a time and place which suits the student ensures that teachers see an improvement in student motivation (Nikolopoulou, 2018) as they no longer need to wait until they walk into a classroom in order to learn.  ‘Today’s school-aged children have grown up with technology and expect to have it readily available’ (Grundmeyer & Peters, 2016, p. 255).  The focus of mobile learning is on connectivity and convenience, along with the ability to move anywhere (Educause, 2019).  This portability extends the traditional classroom to museums, libraries, art galleries, field trips, parks, or workshops (Caballe, Xhafa, & Barolli, 2010).  Extending this further, students can utilise their smartphones to talk with experts, study, complete assigned readings, research, or take notes while travelling on the bus to and from school or during a lunch break at work, thus empowering them to take ownership of their learning (Keengwe, Schnellert, & Jonas, 2014).  Using smartphones to accomplish ubiquitous, collaborative learning; ultimately is dependant on both the individual student’s preference, interest and self-motivation and the willingness for educators to embrace and integrate mobile learning into the classroom.

Educators are the ultimate stumbling block to enabling the use of smartphones in the classroom.  As second-order barriers, their attitudes to technology in general, including the smartphone, serve as an obstacle to adoption (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013).  Teachers are quick to come up with numerous excuses as to why a new technology will not work in their classrooms (Ertmer, 1999).  Whether the new technology is a laptop or a smartphone, excuses range from legitimate concerns through to irrational fears (Thomas, O’Bannon, & Bolton, 2013).  Most of these fears stem from a lack of confidence and perceived level of competency.  Karaca, Can, and Yildirim (2013) found that an educators technology competency was ‘the most influential factor explaining technology integration’ (p. 361).  This competency also had an impact on a teacher’s attitudes and beliefs about the implementation of new technologies (Khlaif (Doctoral Student), 2018).  Part of this stems from a teacher’s beliefs about education, their beliefs about technology and their established classroom practices, all of which lead to an unwillingness to change (Ertmer, 1999).  While several factors including teaching experience, experience with smartphones (or technology in general), and time impact these attitudes and beliefs.  If schools can provide teachers with ongoing support (both principals’ and colleagues’), then teachers are more likely to develop a positive attitude and belief towards the integration of smartphones in the classroom (Khlaif (Doctoral Student), 2018).  Once an understanding of the reasons why educators are fearful of implementing new technology in the classroom is established, along with educators’ beliefs about the role of the smartphone in the curriculum, strategies such as developing a vision, training, modelling, obtaining and managing resources can be established (Ertmer, 1999).

There is no choice as an educator not to embrace the smartphone and integrate mobile technology into the classroom.  Students today have grown up with ready access to smartphones available in their back pocket.  With this ready access, smartphones facilitate pedagogical strategies to engage students and motivate them to investigate their passions.  Students are bringing their smartphones to school regardless of the school’s policy, so educators should work with them rather than resisting them.  Teachers want students to experience success at school and develop into life long learners.  Educators must stop being an obstacle to the adoption of mobile technology.  With support from their principals and colleagues, teachers will embrace the Swiss army knife of technology and move to integrate the smartphone into the classroom.  In an era where ninety-one per cent of teens have ready access to a mobile phone, its time to stop banning the phone from the classroom.


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  1. Pingback: Using Smartphones in the Classroom | Mrs A's Blog

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