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Smartphones: a distraction or a tool?

People discuss the issue of smartphones in the classroom


Are smartphones a hindrance to learning in the classroom, or an asset?

A recent article in The Star reported on smartphone-related discussions at a recent Grand Coulee Dam School District board meeting.

That article directed readers to a poll on the topic to get their opinions. The article was also shared to The Star’s Facebook page asking people to take the poll.

Although only receiving 30 responses, a variety of viewpoints were presented in the results, including those of two students, eight teachers or staff members, 13 parents, and seven who weren’t any of the aforementioned.

Both students said that they have smartphones and felt like they should be allowed access to them in the classroom, although only one felt smartphones should be included into a class curriculum.

The students each wrote comments on the potential pros and cons of allowing smartphones in the classroom.

“A con is that they may be on they’re phone instead of listening to the teacher,” one student wrote.”A pro is that maybe if we give the students access to the phones it will tempt them to go on it less.”

The other student said that one pro would be a student having their phone during an emergency.

“Say we have to leave them in our lockers, what if there is a school shooting?” the student wrote. “The only phone left is either the teachers phone or the school phone. I guarantee that every student in that class would want to be on the phone with a loved one just in case.”

That student also noted the potential usefulness of having the phone, saying it would come in handy “when we’re in class and need to look up something (definition, a certain date, details about something etc.)”

But that student also noted “people being distracted and not doing work,” and “cyber bullying” as potential cons to smartphones being in the classroom.

“I just personally feel that we shouldn’t take away phones because then you’re punishing people that use them for good for the actions of others,” that student wrote.

The eight teacher/staff respondents all own smartphones themselves and range in age from the 25-34 age group (one respondent) to the 55-64 age group (one respondent) with six being between ages 35 and 54.

Six of them felt that students shouldn’t have access to smartphones in the classroom, while two responded “sometimes,” and that smartphones could be incorporated into curriculums.

“Phones are a primary means of communication in society,” one teacher/staff respondent wrote. “Schools reflect society. Schools exist to teach. You can’t teach effectively by prohibiting or ignoring technology or other issues that are a fundamental part of society. Actual teaching, rather than control, would be a radical concept to many (districts, parents, students, and teachers).”

“Smart phones aren’t going away,” another wrote. “Students should be given the opportunity to view their phones as a tool rather than a toy. Smart phones are wonderful for calculator, quick research, and collaboration amongst people. Smart phones in the school should be viewed as an opportunity to teach rather than a hindrance to teaching.”

Other comments from teachers/staff included multiple concerns about the distraction smartphones pose.

“Kids are not talking to each other,” one respondent wrote. “Kids are able to bypass any restrictions and see anything they want, and it is a distraction.”

Another expressed a concern about teachers being filmed and that being an invasion of privacy.

Out of the 13 parents who took the poll, nine were between the ages of 25 and 44, while the rest were older.

Three said that they, themselves, don’t own smartphones.

Eight parents said students shouldn’t have access to their smartphones in the classroom, three said they should, and two said “sometimes.”

Only one felt they should be incorporated into the curriculum.

“I think smart phones, tablets etc. are used way too much by most people and I’m sure are a habit and one that should not be a daily part of school, including lunch,” one parent wrote. “Kids need desperately to have face to face conversations with real people. There may be appropriate times for use in class, makes it quick and simple to call a parent for illness or after school plans. I think that in general they should not be used during school time.”

“Staff do not communicate!!!” another wrote. “I have kids text me when something goes on at the school. If school was better at communicating, then no. LR is the worst at this.”

“I allow my child to carry her phone with her at all times and to only be used for emergencies while in school,” one parent wrote. “I believe if more parents spoke to their child(ren) and had ground rules set with their child(ren) about having their phones at school it could help more. Just having school staff try and implement causes problems itself with students who don’t have rules at home.”

“All I see are cons,” another wrote. “I see it as an unnecessary distraction in the classroom. Unless all kids have one, I don’t see it being used as part of the curriculum. I am very against my kids having a phone and by the school allowing it...that creates a norm that makes kids think they should have a phone, which just adds fuel to kids arguing for one. It is way too easy to cyber bully if you have a phone. It is way too easy to access inappropriate material. If I need to get a hold of my kids or my kids need to get a hold of me, we can call the front office or make a call from the front office. I do not feel the need to have constant access to my kids when they are in school.”

A top concern with parents, as with the teachers and staff, is distraction.

“Kids - actually most adults - don’t have the restraint to not check messages, respond to texts, etc - having the phone right there makes it impossible to pay attention and learn,” one respondent wrote. “I can say without hesitation, I would absolutely not allow phones in my classroom. It’s up to the adults to guide and teach our kids, it’s time to raise the bar for education and make some rules that support that process.”

Although other parents saw potential for smartphones to be used for good.

“Can be used as a great tool if used properly, any and all information at your fingertips,” one respondent wrote.

“Easy access for quick reference questions... Dates, people, definitions, spelling,” another wrote.

The seven respondents, who were neither students, parents nor teachers or staff, ranged in age from the 18-24 age group to the 65-plus age group, and seemed to be the most split on the subject, with all saying that they, themselves, have smartphones. Four feel they should be included in the curriculum and either allowed in the classroom or sometimes allowed.

“The ability of the phone to access information via the internet could be helpful,” one respondent wrote. “Yet, during a classroom presentation, using a phone for non-academic reasons, texting, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat postings, is simply disruptive. That kind of phone usage makes a statement about the students attitude about their education goals and the level of respect they have for the teacher and their peers.”

Another called the smartphone an “electronic teachers aid,” adding that “anything that helps should be considered a benefit to the student.”

Again, distractions such as texting and games were a concern, but their potential usefulness wasn’t ruled out.

Potential pros include “information access, managing schedules, keeping in contact with others regarding educational related out-of-school activities (internships, side jobs, study groups, community service)” according to one respondent. Another noted, “The internet is a wide source of articles and news for class work as well.”

Age didn’t appear to play a large roll in the respondent’s answers, with a mixture of those for or against smartphones in the classroom being present in respondents 34 and younger as well as those 35 and older.

A discussion also took place on The Star’s Facebook post.

Sandy Hood, who taught at Lake Roosevelt for many years, said in a comment that computers already in the class offer students access to the internet.

“Kids have access to all the educational features and more with computers and tablets in the classroom,” she wrote. “Some districts issue tablets with textbooks in electronic version preloaded. … teachers have been using technology and managing student use for close to 20 years now.”

She added that smartphones do pose a conflict when parents have their rules for their kids, but teachers have different rules.

She said smartphones are primarily used for entertainment.

Brea Desautel’s comment touched upon the idea that high schools should teach students how to responsibly use smartphones because they are used much more in college and work settings.

“Smart phones are just a part of everyday life now,” the LR graduate wrote. “When students graduate, and if they happen to go on to further their education, there are typically very loose or no smart phone restrictions or usage monitoring in these higher educational settings. It is encouraged that you connect with fellow students on social media or exchange phone numbers in order to stay up to date in class and to discuss future projects, even communicate with your professor via text if that’s what they prefer. Most, if not all, communication and tracking of class work is done exclusively online, so why not start implementing models of responsible technology use at a younger age? Even in work settings, many companies use social media to communicate with their staff as a whole or they use instant messaging to chat about projects during the day.”

The first iPhone was released in 2007, 12 years ago.

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