Horn or Halo Series – Smartphones

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  • July 14, 2015

Background: The Simon, accepted as the original smartphone, was introduced in 1993, (pre-Internet!). It was clunky and described as ‘brick-like’ by some; but, it had voice, data, PDA and even fax capabilities. Fast forward to today and estimates are we will soon surpass 2 billion smartphone users. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, nearly three-quarters of teens have their own or have access to a smartphone. With so many smartphones out there, what kind of place do they have in the classroom? Are they a horn or halo?


Halo: Students are more likely to have smartphones with them than pens, notebooks, or any other traditional learning tools.

According to a 2014 Pearson study, “smartphone usage has increased across all grade levels and is most prevalent among older students; 44% of elementary school students use smartphones regularly, compared to 58% of middle school students, and 75% of high school students.”

Horn: Smartphones can be incredibly distracting.

That same 2015 Pew Research Center study found 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online ‘almost constantly’, largely due to the convenience of smartphones. So how has this played out in the classroom? Historically it hasn’t. It’s been banned.  “We introduced a complete ban on mobile phones two years ago because of the disruption they were causing, and it has improved behaviour,” (theguardian.com).

Horn: …we really don’t know how to use smartphones in the classroom.

While some students may be using their smartphone powers for good, like entering assignment due dates in their calendars or looking up words they don’t recognize, others are simply scrolling through their Instagram feeds and checking how many likes they got on their most recent posts. Part of the issue with teaching students how to use these devices in a beneficial way is that teachers themselves do not have the experience. The whole classroom has been in the dark when it comes to using phones because they were explicitly banned. Smartphones in the classroom are an unnerving new technology for many and we are just now bringing them out in the open as phone bans are being lifted. New York City school district just recently lifted their ban last January. We have a long way to go to ‘learn’ how to use phones in classrooms.

Halo – Smartphones increase collaboration.

Smartphones hold plenty of positives when it comes into the light of the classroom. Students can take pictures or videos of lessons, connect with students missing from class, and even text teachers for help with a specific question. “It’s harder to do the negative behaviors when the phones are out and the teacher is walking around,” (nea.org). Educators can implement apps such as Socrative to gather data on how well students are comprehending information in class, according to EdWeek. The smartphone has access to countless versatile learning tools, and it can do things that back in the day would have required a many expensive devices.

The Verdict: Smartphones in the classroom are a given, and eventually all educators will grow to learn how to manage their appropriate use.

The verdict is in, evidenced by ban after ban being lifted, we are headed towards more smartphones in classrooms across the board. Rather than confiscating and denying the existence of these tools, where appropriate, educators are increasingly finding innovative ways to use them in learning. From instant research and collaboration to learning apps to purposeful social media, educators are slowly leading students in the right direction when it comes to using their smartphones in learning.

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