Smartphones in Classrooms: is it Time for a Rethink?

In 2017, you’d be hard pressed to find many teens heading off to school WITHOUT a smartphone in their pockets. In fact, I’m sure most of them would consider it a far more important item than their lunch, and probably even their homework!

However these devices don’t remain in their pockets for long. They are used en route to school to check social media, game, listen to music and connect with friends. All very normal behaviour for a digital native. But what happens when the bell rings and the lessons start? Are they returned to the pockets?

Many high school teachers and principals will attest that managing teens and their phones requires a lot of time and energy. Some schools police this issue particularly vigilantly and have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, insisting that phones are stored in lockers at all times. Other schools are embracing our teens’ love for technology and using smartphones as learning devices in the classroom.

But this ‘tech-centred’ approach is uncharted waters for us ‘first-generation’ digital parents. The majority of parents I speak to prefer the idea of smartphones not being used in classrooms. Many understand only too well the lure social media has for teens and believe removing this distraction from the classroom is good news all round. Perhaps it is a ‘generation issue’ but they just don’t believe any pros could outweigh the cons.

Interestingly, the parents whose children attend schools where smartphones are used in the classroom are very divided in their opinions. Some think it ridiculous and believe the distraction factor is very real, while others think it really innovative and believe their children are far more engaged as a result. One mother reports her daughter videoing science experiments, sharing homework ideas on subject Facebook pages and using apps for group work. She sees the use of smartphones in her daughter’s learning as transformational.

As a mother of 4 boys who are all particularly fond of social media, I totally get parents’ concern about technology being a distraction from studies. However, I think it’s time to stop demonising technology and get with the times. We need to acknowledge that learning as we knew it back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s has changed. For better or worse, technology has created a generation of digital natives who yearn for engagement and immediacy. Why not use the devices our teens love to engage with them in the classroom and educate them in the process?

Not convinced? Here are just a few examples of how technology is being used by forward-thinking, technology-embracing teachers and schools:

  • Engaging students in presentations, quizzes and brainstorms with real time responses on screen using apps like
  • Sharing subject notes using Google Forms and Google Drive
  • Texting in class to peer-edit projects. Conducive to a calm classroom!
  • Collaborating in real time with their peers using a Twitter hashtag and Facebook groups
  • Encouraging writing with blogging apps such as Blogger or Writer Plus
  • Using Facetime to speak to experts or include outside audience members during a class or learning activity.
  • Video recording assignment instructions, experiments or solutions
  • Engaging students using YouTube or Ted Talks to show students ideas or concepts
  • Soothing and calming excitable students with appropriate music from music libraries
  • Empowering struggling writers with voice dictation apps like Dragon Dictation
  • Calling on Google Translator to navigate language barriers

Pretty impressive?

Now, of course it’s not all going to be smooth sailing. If schools decide to embrace smartphones in the classroom, there are a few things that need to be put in place to make it successful.

1. Student Contract

I love the clarity a contract or agreement provides. I strongly urge schools to clearly spell out the terms of a ‘classroom smartphone usage’ agreement with their students so there is no room for misunderstanding. Certain conditions such as staying on task and being considerate of others’ privacy would ideally need to be upheld by the students in order for smartphones to be used on a particular project. Once the trust is in place and co-operation has been demonstrated, more regular smartphone classroom usage could be programmed.

2. Ongoing Commitment to Student Online Safety Education

Regular, relevant and up-to-date online safety education for students is an essential part of this scenario. If schools choose to incorporate smartphones in the learning process – in addition to a laptop or tablet program – then they have a heightened responsibility for the online welfare of their charges. Students need to be constantly educated and reminded about responsible phone usage. Understanding how to avoid online pitfalls and dangers, truly respect other students’ privacy, and appropriate online behaviour including tone, manners and etiquette are lessons our teens need to hear constantly.

3. Keep the Parents Updated and Involved

To ensure parents are supportive, it is essential that they truly understand what is going on. Schools need to update parents regularly about how technology is used in the classroom setting. Not only does this promote understanding and consequently support by the parent body but, just as importantly, it helps bridge the technology gap between parents and their offspring!


I really believe we owe it to our kids to rethink our definition of learning and accept this break with tradition. At the end of the day what parent would deprive their children of the opportunity to be truly engaged and involved in their education??

What do you think? A step too far? Would love to hear your views.

Alex x

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