When you stop and think about it, smartphones are extraordinary devices. They offer multiple forms of communication -- voice, text and video -- as well as a connection to the Internet, access to audio and video streaming, satellite navigation and a veritable galaxy of apps. It’s no wonder they’ve taken society by storm, especially the world of young people. But are they a bit too powerful? Too dangerous? Too distracting? Should they be banned from classrooms, or embraced as learning tools? Let’s look at some pros and cons:
Instant access for parents
Any teacher can tell you that parents are a major source of calls and texts in the classroom. Some are simple workaday messages like coordinating after-school pickups, while others are of greater importance, concerning family emergencies. Many parents deeply appreciate being able to reach their kids when necessary.
Let’s face it, phones are great for research. They provide ready access not only to the World Wide Web but countless research databases and up-to-date news services. Instead of sitting in their seats not knowing answers to questions, students can find their own answers, bringing a bit of student-centered learning to the classroom.
We’ve now reached the point where real work is being performed on cell phones, up to and including feature films and bestselling novels. Students can easily write assignments, shoot and edit photos, audio and video, and craft presentations, then share their work with the whole class via projector or Smartboard. Properly employed, today’s phones can be powerful tools for learning.
The standard learning model is not the best for everyone. There are many reasons why a student might be unwilling or unable to speak up in the classroom, including learning exceptionalities and just plain shyness. Social media-based learning models offer a route for broader participation and sharing. Indeed the familiarity most young people have with social media can reduce stress associated with learning.
Safety of digital devices
Officially, smartphones pose no medical risk to people who use them. However, questions remain about the methods used in dismissing those risks, so the matter, to many people, is far from settled. Even if there is no risk, the fears many parents have can make the use of smartphones in the classroom a controversial choice.
It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to control what students view on their phones. We all know that a vast amount of inappropriate content is freely available, and this includes content that is harmful but gets less media coverage -- for instance teen gambling is a serious problem. Schools frequently implement firewalls to block such content but tech-savvy students routinely find ways around these measures.
Inappropriate contact and cyberbullying
The digital world can be dangerous. Not only are there predators, but students can sometimes be convinced to share compromising imagery. At the same time, some youngsters find themselves the targets of cyberbullying. Using phones in the classroom can inadvertently expose young people to these dangers -- the opposite of the goals of educators, who are traditionally devoted to the safety of their students.
Distraction from schoolwork
Phones are fun. They’re fun. If adults can have trouble tearing their eyes away from the little things, then so can young people. Classrooms are supposed to be devoted to learning, and if students are using their phones for non-educational purposes, well, the whole endeavor is just a waste of everyone’s time.