Guest post via @beachhist: Smartphones – Friend or Foe?

I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring of this fairly divisive subject.  Now, lets set the scene.  I’m 36.  I grew up at a time when Windows 3.1 was being used in schools, with RM Nimbus machines.   Therefore, you could say I have had a lifetime of tech use in and out of schools.  As a man, I like my gadgets.  I’ve gone through the phase of owning one of every console (before I met my wife) and stopped buying CDs and Blu-ray to instead buy online movies and have a streaming account for my music.  I am not an Apple man, but instead, prefer the work of Android.  And yes, I have a smartphone, which I think I use fully – social media, online streaming of video and music, work (sometimes), email, photography, tracking my fitness in the day AND even occasionally the odd text and phone call.   I embrace the idea of the smartphone, the computer that fits into your pocket.   (My wife can’t see the point and uses it as just a phone!!)


In school, most students bring some kind of device with them.  Some have padlet computers, but most bring their smartphones.  Where I work has a Bring Your Own Device network, allowing users on with the username and password, and offering a good WiFi connection, but one that still has the normal restrictions on it meaning that inappropriate sites cannot be accessed.  So, safe use of devices can occur.  However, should we ban the use of smartphones/mobile phones in schools?  I believe no although I do understand the arguments for.

Firstly, banning mobile phones in schools would start to remove methods of bullying that can take place in today’s schools.  By “mugging” people off online for all your followers to see, this is intimidating behaviour.  We have all heard the stories of students across the country committing suicide over cyber-bullying.  It is also very difficult for us as teachers to deal with.  Once it is out there, it can be passed on very quickly from people’s accounts and impossible to limit the spread.   They can also be a distraction, with students forgetting to turn them off and messages and alerts coming through at all times, sometimes disrupting the flow of a lesson.  However, from my experiences, this is often by accident.

Now for the counter argument – allowing students to bring mobile devices into schools.  We are living in the 21st Century.  Everywhere you go, computing technology controls or influences our lives.  As I am sitting here writing this blog on my computer, I have my phone flashing with a message from my brother, my iPad in my bedroom, my wife on her iPad looking up a recipe and a music streaming device playing music as we write and cook. Technology is everywhere, and we as people are a) pushing it forward to new areas of our lives, and b) running and maintaining it.  Therefore, we need to feel comfortable using such devices.  And more than ever, this should include the classroom.


Many times, teachers have been accused by many groups of spoon-feeding our students, teaching to the exams to get as good as a result as we possibly can.  We are told we are not developing independent thinkers, explorers of knowledge, students bringing no useful skills to the workplace.  So we adapt our teaching methods.  We encourage students to go and find the answer, create snappy phrases such as “3 before Me” to educate them to explore other avenues before coming to the expert in the room.  We call it research, maybe we should now be calling it exploration (sounds better).  How do we learn?  As professionals, we are always learning, whether it be skills or knowledge.  Students always seem shocked when I “reveal” to them that I am always reading around upcoming lessons, either if it is a) something new I am teaching or b) just revising.  My phrase “4,000 years and the entire world” makes them understand how limited sometimes our knowledge can be.  So if we want to develop students into explorers of knowledge, they will need the tools to succeed.  Books would be ideal, but numbers of books in school are not as high as they were 25 years ago.  The internet is the go-to repository of knowledge.  Yes, they need to sort through the crap and fake news that litters our search results, but guided in the right direction, they can succeed and marvel at what they find.


So what do they need?  Simple, a device to access the internet.  But ICT resources in any school across the world is limited.  In my department, we have 13 Chromebook devices for a two-person department, who at most times has 50 students being taught History at the same time.  The ratio of school devices > students, unfortunately, doesn’t fit.  But students are more than happy to whip out their phones and use them instead, to free up another device for a peer who doesn’t have a device with them.  And Bingo! You have an explorer, searching away for the answer by themselves.

And what about a final product, something that can be assessed by themselves, by their peers and by myself?  Students in our current Year 11 told us in no uncertain terms, they like variety, and you know what, WHO BLAMES THEM!!  If I came home every night to the same old routine and meals be exactly the same, I would be fed up too.  One thing I pride myself in doing is having variety in the learning activities my students engage in.  I’ve used programmes that question students after watching a video, I’ve shared podcasts, students have produced mind maps and online timelines.  They have collaborated and taught presentations.  My Year 7’s are currently engaged in a choice board activity where THEY choose 3 tasks from a selection of 9 to produce on the topic of the Spanish Armada.  Our Year 9’s currently each has their own chrome books in a 1-2-1 device scheme.  They have had Nearpod lessons, completed and Year 8 have retold the story of Emmett Till in storyboard form.  Variety comes from the innovative use of technology.  Students have requested making short news broadcasts they can record and edit, what better device than a mobile phone.  Essentially, lacking technology in schools means that the type of education we should offer is very difficult.  We ask students to bring their own pens and pencils.  What is wrong with allowing them to help US and their peers out by being allowed to bring their own devices to help those around them who don’t.

Finally, we are dealing with teenagers.  You tell them they can’t do something, they are going to test to the boundaries and see how far they can test them.  If you make it wrong to have them, you are only going to encourage them more.

So to summarise, smartphones or mobile phones, whichever name you want to use, are our friend.  Don’t be scared of them, cause if we do, we could be seriously restricting the possibilities open to use.  Embrace the tech, enjoy the experience, and let the students show US how it can be done.  They are growing up with, we are simply living with it.


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