How should teachers respond to the use of mobile technology (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) by students in their classrooms? The most common reaction to students who use mobile tech has been to take punitive measures against them, usually in the form of confiscating their mobile device. However, this reaction is based on the (flawed) assumption that mobile technology can only serve as a distraction from learning rather than a tool for learning. I propose that, contrary to popular opinion, mobile devices can be integrated into the classroom and contribute to the learning experiences of the students and the teaching experiences of their instructors.
Mobile Technology as a Distraction From Learning
First off, I will address the question many educators will have while reading this: What about texting a social media? There is no doubt that most students (and many teachers) are immersed in online communities that can, potentially, distract them from the "real world." Realizing, quite rightly, that mobile technology can be a distraction, educators have typically taken a rigid stance against the use of smartphones and tablets in their classes. When a student is caught using her phone in class, the teacher usually either takes the phone away until the end of class or threatens to take the phone away for good. The former only delays the student from going right back to whatever it is she was doing before she was caught using it and the latter is, frankly, stealing. One student remarked that her teacher had threatened to "Sell my iPhone for cash," which had the teacher actually attempted to do so, would have been illegal.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the current approach to mobile technology in the classroom is that it fails to account for the innumerable uses of mobile tech that are conducive to learning while focusing on the few uses that are detrimental to it.
Solution to the Problem
The solution to the problem, counterintuitive as it might seem, is to have students use their phones more often during class. Instead of assuming that mobile tech is always a learning liability, teachers should recognize that it can be an asset as well. Here are a few ways in which mobile tech can be turned from a distraction to a tool for focusing attention:
Mobile tech can be used for taking notes. This is especially true of laptops and tablets, which provide a larger interface for notetaking. Additionally, taking notes on a laptop rather than paper is environmentally friendly.
If the instructor has posted her PowerPoints online, students can access them from their mobile devices and follow the lecture at their own pace.
Mobile tech can be used to Google definitions and new concepts learned in class. Rather than distracting from the topic at hand, mobile devices can be used to enhance the conversation. A teacher’s ability to convey factual information is largely obsolete in an age where information is so readily available. Despite its reputation as an unreliable source of popular misinformation and fake news, the internet has proven to be the most effective myth-busting tool in human history – making it easier than ever to triangulate sources and prevent the spreading of non-canonical oral myth so often perpetrated in the classroom. Rather than clinging tightly to a century-old model of information dump, why don’t we embrace this accessibility to empower students?
The goal of an educator should not be to eliminate mobile tech from the classroom entirely but, rather, to find new ways to implement it into the course. An educator must be able to differentiate between inefficient uses of technology and efficient uses of it and encourage their students to engage in the latter. If you are an educator, place yourself in your student's shoes. Wouldn't you rather be encouraged to use your mobile tech responsibly than have to tell others that your instructor threatened to "sell my iPhone?"