The role of the maligned mobile in learning

A provocative look at a controversial topic…

How many of you mark or plan lessons with a mobile phone nearby? Whether it is on hand for emergencies, research or just light relief, many adults are comfortable having their devices available whilst working.

At Oakham, F4 and younger students are not allowed to bring phones to class, and F5 students are expected to hand their phones in at the start of the lesson. The rationale is clear – remove the distraction and learning is better as a result. But are we missing a trick if we lock the mobile device away and do not allow pupils to see the educational aspects of their tech? Limiting access to the vast digital network available to them could potentially inhibit learning.

At their best, mobile phones offer incredible differentiation in class. After a traditional lesson, the phone can be used for a quick assessment (Kahoot/Socrative/QuizUp…) and then a teacher can recommend the next direction a pupil takes. It could further research on an extension topic or offer up a YouTube video for someone who needs greater support. Through using their own device, a teacher is able to take on a much more facilitating role rather than a purely didactic role.

Of course, there are affordances to consider. Concentration is likely to be tested with the plethora of options that are available on a smartphone, many of which are not educational in the slightest. And whilst there is evidence to suggest that pupils concentrate better with the occasional glance at their phone (pupils then learn to use their phone sparingly and efficiently, as opposed to checking every two minutes), I can imagine that we will not be seeking to build in compulsory Snapchat breaks in lessons! It is difficult to monitor what pupils are looking at in class, which does make the process daunting; however, now that we have Surface Pros that connect to projectors through Miracast, a teacher is more mobile in the classroom and can position themselves to more easily observe what students are writing and looking at on their phones.

There will also be issues with online sources. Independent research done poorly is likely to bring up some less than reliable info, and whilst this has the potential for slowing down progress in comparison to a reliable text book, students should be exposed to such ‘fake news’ so as to help them make greater sense and critique of the digital environment. Considering how important the DoE considers being digitally literate (being able to be critical of online sources), surely we should be taking responsibility for embedding this skill in students – particularly as they will need this skill more and more as they grow up?

At the moment the mobile phone is considered a dirty word in many schools – and the pupils know this. If we get clean up the image of the mobile a little more then students could start to see the mobile as a source for educational enrichment, preparing themselves for the murky world in which we live.

Do let me know what you think below: should we consider a greater role in the classroom for mobile phones?

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