Sep 29 2016

Why Faculty Shouldn’t Ban Smartphones in Classrooms

Allowing students to bring mobile devices into class can boost collaboration and improve learning.

Would it surprise you to learn that students have become so attached to their smartphones that leaving them behind can cause enough anxiety to affect test scores?

A recent study from Singapore Management University found that university students who had their devices taken from them scored 17 percentage points lower on a standardized test than those who didn’t. Researchers concluded that students without their smartphones experienced so much anxiety and fear of missing out — or FOMO — that they were unable to focus.

The study is small and based on a non-U.S. population, so while its findings are not entirely conclusive, they do demonstrate the type of bond that can exist between young adults and their devices.

Stephen diFilipo, former CIO of Cecil College in Maryland and digital education consultant, says that like cars to generations past, smartphones are a huge symbol of independence to millennials because they let them engage with the outside world.

“To take that away from [students] during the class period is deconstructing their world,” says diFilipo. “Now you’ve walled off your learning environment from the rest of their world.”

Josh Murdock, an instructional designer at Valencia College who opines on his blog, Professor Josh, agrees that there’s a big benefit of letting students have smartphones in class: Students, just like many professors, use their phones to keep track of everything, from email to lists of to-do items.

“We always encourage students to be organized, and I think a lot of people are organized through apps,” Murdock says.

Mobile Devices Let Students Learn How They Want To

In its recent overview of undergrads and IT trends, the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) reported that while students and faculty are largely interested is using mobile devices for learning, only about one-third actually do.

This gap is due to the fact that some faculty just don’t understand what students can do on mobile devices, diFilipo says.

“The smartphone is nothing more than a laptop that doesn’t fold in half,” he says. “Students can use Excel and read long, complex documents on their phones.”

Murdock also argues that since 2-in-1 devices, like the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, are becoming the norm in some K–12 schools, many students are simply just used to mobile devices and tablets over notebook computers.

For university students, diFilipo says bringing a mobile device helps them to incorporate class into the rest of their lives. With apps for productivity (like, notetaking (like OneNote) and lecture recording apps, students can now integrate information from class into their smartphones.

Murdock notes that smartphones in the classroom also add an inherent ability for collaboration and engagement, since students have information at their fingertips.

“I think it’s a great way to get students actively involved,” he says. “Every classroom doesn’t have a computer or a set of tablets.”

Murdock has seen some examples of classroom collaboration involving immediate interactions, such as classroom polls/games on websites like Kahoot! and Poll Everywhere.

Smartphones in large, lecture classes can also provide a boost of engagement, particularly with the help of social media, he said. Earlier this summer, EdTech: Focus on Higher Education reported on Laura Ann Jimerson, who used Twitter in her art history class to let all students have a chance to contribute through a classroom hashtag.

Best Practices for BYOD

When deciding to let students bring their own mobile devices to class, diFilipo says universities should ensure their Wi-Fi has the bandwidth to handle it.

Murdock agrees, but also notes that it is important for professors who want to add a smartphone engagement component to check with the students first.

“You need to prep students prior to asking them to use smartphones to make sure everyone has a capable device,” he says.

The ECAR findings also suggest that universities become “mobile ready, i.e., be willing and able to provide a mobile-friendly environment that meets student, faculty, and staff expectations.”

The survey found that 32 percent of higher ed instructors are interested in creating assignments that incorporate mobile technology. ECAR advises that university administrators and IT departments guide these forward-thinking professors in how add these devices into curriculum.

“This year’s study also suggests that the greatest current impediment [to technology implementation] is probably undersupported faculty,” the report states. “Faculty need reasonable evidence about which technologies most benefit students, and they need help incorporating those technologies into their teaching.”

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