Teaching Profession

Can Students Benefit From More Phone Time?

By Jordan Moeny — October 17, 2014 2 min read
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Is it time for teachers to start letting students have a little more leeway where personal technology is concerned? A new Harris Poll study conducted on behalf of Pearson shows that a majority of students at all levels want more freedom to use their phones and other mobile devices in the classroom.

The study looked at responses from 2,252 students in grades 4 through 12 and finds that 56 percent of high school students say that they would like to use the devices more often in school, along with 67 percent of middle school and 71 percent of elementary school students.

Students aren’t necessarily just looking for ways to waste time in the classroom, either: Fifty-one percent of the students surveyed feel that it is “important” for them to have one-to-one school-provided laptops (which are presumably intended for school-related activities), and 71 percent of high school students say that they need Internet access at least twice a week to do their work.

Pearson reports that 75 percent of high school students use smartphones regularly, an increase of 15 percentage points in the last year, and 43 percent say that they already use their smartphones to do schoolwork at least twice a week.

A March 2013 Pew Research Study, however, found that only 37 percent of all teens have smartphones, up from 23 percent in 2011. If both polls are accurate, that would mean smartphone use among teens has doubled in the last 19 months. (Or perhaps, since the Pearson poll looked at usage rather than ownership, that a very large number of teens are regularly using their parents’ phones.)

The Harris Poll found that 62 percent of students lack wireless Internet access at school. If true, allowing mobile devices into the classroom might not help with schoolwork unless students have good data plans.

Even so, that doesn’t mean that phones are destined to be distractions. The Pearson poll results come on the heels of another study showing that teens who multitask regularly become better at juggling several tasks at once. The study, conducted by two Oregon students, found that “high media multitaskers” may perform worse, not better, when told to focus on a single item.

Unless students drastically change their routines outside of school, their tendency to multitask is unlikely to go away in the near future. That means that schools and teachers may need to find ways to work with teens’ new habits.

It’s also worth noting that Pearson isn’t an impartial body in all this; the company sells professional development tools focused on integrating classroom technology, so there’s an easily-discernible motive for them to push for more in-class tech use.

In any case, if students want their phones in the classroom and aren’t being severely distracted by the devices, teachers who are looking to shift to high-tech classrooms anyway might consider making use of the technology students are already bringing to school. Shara Peters and Jody Passanisi made the case for this in a piece for Teacher last year:

The anxiety and fear that the smartphone represents is real and powerful ... Once we move beyond this idea of scapegoating the phone and realize that computers and phones can do the same things, then perhaps we can begin to see the applications in the classroom for these powerful computers. Even more, we can begin to reimagine the classroom, taking into consideration all of the things that a smartphone can do for our students' learning."

Image from Pixabay/Creative Commons CC0

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.