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Smartphones in the classroom

Students—and some faculty—have misperceptions about mobile device use
University Business, July 2018

University and college professors face new and exciting challenges today due to technological advances in smartphones and smartwatches and the implanted devices that are currently being tested. Students’ growing dependence on smartphones does not stop at the classroom door. Some students use these hand-held computers during class time to listen to music, check the time, text others, surf the web, visit social sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.), shop, watch television, view movies, search for information during examinations, answer phone calls, and so forth.

Some professors are annoyed when students use their smartphones during lectures. This results in addressing the issue losing precious class time. Often this leads professors to develop verbal and written policies to restrain the use of smartphones during class time. However, this approach is not likely to succeed due to the strength of the dependence that some students demonstrate. Proactive practices that incorporate smartphones into the learning process are needed. This involves reducing students’ use of smartphones for personal use during class time and increasing the use of this most advanced pedagogical tool in the history of education for learning purposes.

Recent research at a mid-sized public university in New England) has shown that students have misperceptions regarding their peers’ use of smartphones for personal use during class time (UBmag.me/ks1).

Students were asked to respond to the following statements regarding their use of smartphones during class time and their perceptions of their peers' use of smartphones during class time:

  • Students used cellphones to text others.
  • Students use cell phones to surf the Web.
  • Students use cell phones to visit social sites.
  • Students leave the classroom to take calls.
  • Students use cell phones during examinations to text others in and or out of the room for answers
  • Students use cell phones during examinations to view pictures of notes taken in class for answers.
  • Students use cell phones during examinations to connect to textbooks for answers.

Responses were measured using Likert scales (i.e., 1 = very frequently, 2 = frequently, 3 = occasionally, 4 = rarely, and 5 = never)

Students perceived that their peers use their smartphones for personal use more than they do themselves. These are misperceptions because the same students responded to the same statements. This is important because these misperceptions may lead students to believe that using smartphones and smartwatches in the classroom to text others in and out of the classroom, surf the Web, visit social sites, tweet, and find information during examinations are the campus norms. These false beliefs may result in students increasing their use of their smartphones and smartwatches for personal use during class time.

University and college administrators have engaged in clarifying students’ misperception regarding their peers’ consumption of alcohol for decades (e.g., see UBmag.me/ks1). Faculty members charged with the responsibility of providing a productive learning environment might engage in activities designed to clarify students’ misperceptions regarding their peers’ use of smartphones during classes. Information is a powerful tool in changing perceptions and attitudes. For example, today, unlike in the past, most pregnant women do not smoke cigarettes or consume alcohol during their pregnancy.

Professors can discuss the contents of the study above to show students that their peers do not use their phones during class time as often as they believe they do. Professors can then engage students in discussions regarding the pros and cons of using smartphones in the classroom for educational purposes. This topic usually results in a very lively and informative discussion. They can inform students that they will be directing them to use their phones for educational purposes, such as calculators, to take pictures of information on the board or projected on the screen, look up current information regarding case studies, supplement lectures with online resources, and so forth.

Professors can discuss the results of the study above to show students that their peers do not use their phones during class time as often as they believe they do. Professors can then engage students in discussions regarding the pros and cons of using smartphones in the classroom for educational purposes. This topic usually results in a very lively and informative discussion. They can inform students that they will be directing them to use their phones for educational purposes, such as using them as calculators, to take pictures of information on the board or projected on the screen, to look up current information regarding case studies, to supplement lectures with online resources, and so forth.

The best discipline is a good lesson plan. This coupled with clarifying these misperceptions may result in reducing the undesirable use of smartphones for personal use in the classroom.  This will result providing students with an environment conducive to optimizing the learning experience and allow instructors to harness the power of smartphones for learning purposes.

C. Kevin Synnott is a lecturer at Eastern Connecticut State University

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