Cellphones in the classroom debate

Again, our last debate is one of the very controversial topics. Some approve the use of cell phones in the classroom, and they have very valid reasons as outlined by Skyler & Alyssa, and others do not, which has been nicely highlighted by Jill & Tarina.  A Common Sense Media survey found that that 80 percent of schools have a cell phone policy, with 25% of teachers (mostly high school teachers) finding the policy difficult to implement and 66% finding it easy to follow. 

Students getting their phone taken away. Photo courtesy of Google Images via Creative Commons.

Cell phones can easily be the greatest students’ distraction tool in the classroom, not only for the users of cell phones but also for their classmates. For example, teachers have to be interrupted to ask cellphone holders to stop distracting others. Another issue with cell phones in class is that some students may use it for cheating, and other students may use it for bullying, especially with cameras being everywhere and too small to see. In addition, cell phones typically increase the amount of time each student spends alone, which reduces the social experience with classmates (albeit may increase it with virtual classmates). 

However, Cell phones can have advantages in the classroom. First, Cell phones can be an important factor for equity in the classroom.  Duncan Clark believes that mobile phone usage will be “the single most important factor in increasing literacy on the planet.” As he explains, “Every child is massively motivated to learn to text, post and message on mobiles. The evidence shows that they become obsessive readers and writers through mobile devices.” Kalyn and Nataly debate 

Cell phones can be used by students to access educational apps (such as Kahoot). Cell phones allow students to conduct research related to the material they study through, for example, access and search of social media content as well as access to their learning network. Building such a network is very important for the educational process of students. Group discussions and peer-teaching during and after class time can be the best learning times for students. Another example is when students use cell phones to access different media (videos, articles, libraries, digital textbooks) related to class topics. Cell phones also provide general apps that help students take note, and efficiently manage their time/ projects. The office of educational technology summarized this by “Digital learning tools can offer more flexibility and learning supports than traditional formats. Educators are better able to personalize and customize learning experiences to align with the needs of each student.” 

In the situation that the teacher/ Professor is following active learning methodologies, cell phones can be an integral part of the classroom. Cell phones can be used by students, for example, to answer MCQ quizzes. They can also be used as clickers to provide feedback to professors in a higher education classroom. Integrating cell phones in the classroom can enhance the learning experience and creates a functional and personalized learning environment. 

However, all of the above advantages for the use of cell phones in the classroom are conditional on the appropriate use of students of this technology.   Skyler & Alyssa’s motto ‘Have a Plan, Not a Ban.’ is really a pivotal point to this issue. I guess our plan should consider the following two conditions: 

The first condition is to incorporate different learning and pedagogy strategies in lesson/ lecture design to maximize the advantages of using technology in the classroom.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, We should look at our pedagogy goals and decide accordingly. We should ask ourselves why we choose to allow students to use a cell phone in the classroom? What problem do we think it solves? We have to take a closer look at the pedagogy and try to find out the pedagogical concerns we might have. Depending on the issues discovered, we would then choose to allow (or not) cell phones in the classroom.

Another condition before allowing cell phones in the classroom is to teach students how to use technology (whether cell phone or social networks or any other technology in fact) in the classroom. Such educational endeavours become essential as these technologies may affect students’ safety and privacy. I believe if our students are taught to be responsible digital citizens, the advantage of technology in the classroom will outweigh its disadvantages. 

4 thoughts on “Cellphones in the classroom debate

  1. Thanks for your advice, knowledge, and wisdom, Nataly! You do a great job of outlining the debate from both perspectives. I LOVE how you brought it back to pedagogy. The questions that you posed are SO important for educators to reflect on before we implement anything in our classroom. Thanks for reminding us to look at the bigger picture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nataly, I really love your reflective and thoughtful questions of when, how and why teachers should use cell phones. This reiterates the depth of thought that is required when designing lesson plans, but also speaks to the importance of relationships and procedures so students are prepared and aware of the shift in registers. I also thought your point of differentiating instruction is essential. Tech is not THE answer, but is a tremendous tool. As is student led inquiry, teacher lecture, use of media, small group discussions- the list goes on! It is our job to incorporate all the tools so that different learners thrive, and also have time to work on a skill set that doesn’t come as easily to them. Thank you for reiterating that point as it shows the big picture of education and the tools that helps aid student engagement and learning.


  3. Sherrie Meredith

    Nataly, I agree that yes, we need a plan if we are going to use cell phones in the classroom, and that we have to look at the pedagogical reasoning on why/when we decide to use them. Cell phones can be both a distraction and a powerful tool, how do we make sure they are being used only for educational needs while students are in our classes? We have a school rule that students need to ask a teacher’s permission in order to use their device, or they can use it when a teacher asks them to. This seems to work fairly well, but usually the most commonly asked question is: “Can I use my phone to listen to music?” Seems innocent enough, but as soon as their phone is out, now they have access to the other distractions and functions it provides. It is very difficult for teachers to monitor what the phones are being used for. I like that you have highlighted that teachers need a plan that is conscientious of pedagogy. Thank you for your post.


  4. Lisafrazer

    Nataly, I have to agree with the other ladies… Asking ourselves in the planning stage if a cell phone will benefit the task at hand and consider the concerns it may cause if used is a beneficial plan. The distractions may in fact outweigh the learning. Great perspective!


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