Smartphone Usage in the Classroom

This is a specific area of interest for me, the current discourse surrounding the use of smartphones and devices is very active and often strongly opinionated. I wanted to write about this because I feel as though a more balanced approach to this conversation is needed and that as educators, we have a duty to our students to develop a fair and somewhat flexible position on the integration of devices into learning environments. A refreshing article in Psychology Today discusses the idea that smartphones are not destroying a generation as if often stated in the media, with the articles citing ‘obsessive behaviour…. smartphone addiction‘ and  ‘sudden shifts in their psychological well-being’ . While I do not deny that the obsessive, addictive behaviour and marked shifts in mental health conditions are present, I think it’s important for educators to hold a rational and helpful perspective on this.

Many times in my role I have encountered conversations about ‘banning’ smartphones from the classroom. As a member of Generation Y, and one of us who have encountered this technology in our teen and early adult life but not during childhood, I think I have an interesting perspective on this, the technology has been present for most of my life but was not pervasive until I was in my early twenties. I have personally experienced smartphone addiction and obsessive behaviour and thoughts surrounding my devices, specifically linked to social media, but having navigated this and come out the other side better off than before I would like to share my knowledge with other people in positions of responsibility. Banning the smartphone is, to some students (at the risk of sounding a little dramatic) like cutting off a limb, some will become extremely anxious, and many will resent this behaviour as an attempt to overpower them or take control of their actions. This reduces our students levels of agency and free-will surrounding their decision making and is not in tune with a humanist approach to teaching.

A recent feature on Women’s Hour analysed the pros and cons of allowing our children to use devices, a more controversial perspective was that the technology is one thing, and the content is another thing, that games are designed to be addictive and release endorphin hits. They also discuss Nomophobia (no mobile phone phobia), the fear of being without our phones and the definition of addiction. They talk about the idea that the phone brings good as well as bad. The conclusion here is that it is a question of balance.

A recent article published in Womankind Magazine qualitatively documents the stories of 8 women participating in the ‘smartphone challenge’ a request to go phone free for five days. Their stories are insightful, with one woman explaining how she felt as though people were judging her for just standing there in a coffee shop while waiting for her drink, and that she wished she had her phone to diffuse the tension. All the women seem to have had some transformative experiences, but we have to remember that they are probably quite mindful of their smartphone usage and have opted to temporarily change their behaviour, this is not the same for everyone many of us use our devices quite subconsciously.

Of course there are certain times and sessions that require more focus, I recently led a book-binding workshop, in this circumstance the smartphone may be a distraction from the demo and if they were to video-record it or audio-record it there might not be sufficient detail or information to replicate the demo. In other workshops, for example when students are expected to partake in group work or peer-to-peer communication the smartphone can act as a social mask, a go to and a physical barrier in times of social awkwardness and anxiety. Lets have a sensible and open conversation with our students about this, treat them as adults and ask them to consider their health, their usage and ask them to decide how they would like to interact with their devices.