Is Your Smartphone Good for You?; A School’s Dilemma

The Hechinger Report

As a young adult and student, I can say with complete confidence that I find my phone to be a necessity in my life. I have my phone on me practically 24-7 and find many uses for it both socially and academically. Yet this isn’t the case just for me as in fact over 85% of teens and young adults in college own a smartphone and find it a necessity as well (Wu 2016).

It’s no secret that the U.S. highly values education as within the past fifty years the U.S. has seen huge rises a dramatic rise in college enrollment rates. More, the U.S. alone spent over 56 billion dollars a year on technology to just improve students’ academic performances demonstrating the importance/impact technology has in the classroom and the expectation for it to grow reveals the value technology has in academic settings for the future (Johnson 2011).

However, smartphones were introduced into the classroom just a few years ago, and new ways to engage students through their phones are used by teachers every day. As a result, there stands a debate on whether having phones within the classroom is the best tool to help students retain information. Although, smartphones were not widely used by teenagers when they first came out, they became popular among teens in the early 2000’s. For example, by 2008, over 72% of teens above 14 had owned a smartphone (Lenhart 2009).

Even with young students beginning to use smartphones more in the classroom as easy and valuable it is grab students’ attention in the classroom their smartphones, phones are known for their distracting abilities. There has been a strong correlation between phone activity and distraction, proven by several studies.

When obtaining information, I reviewed how common smartphones were amongst students in college and high school today. As previously mentioned, a little over 85% of all students attending college own a smartphone. This large fraction of students that own phones represent an upward trend from the only 45% who owned a smartphone in 2014 (Wu 2016). Thus, smartphones are taken advantage of in the classroom far more than other personal technologies like laptops because of how common they have become in society. This is especially true among schools that cannot afford to equip their students with computers or tablets. 

Throughout the past few years, phones have become necessities by most people’s standards; smartphones will continually find themselves in people’s pockets and backpacks for their ability to communicate and connect us with others. Phone activity and addictiveness have risen drastically, which is one of the many reasons to why phones are so common in the classroom today. Nowadays, the average student and person are more likely to have a phone than they own any other type of personal technology.

 However, one study shows that people find the convenience of a phone to be its most appealing contribution to academics. Because a phone is easily accessible and mobile, teachers have asserted they always feel connected to their students. Especially at the high school level, teachers such as Stephanie Ratti contend that being a teacher is far beyond the classroom and being linked to your students outside of school can allow more students to be more successful (NPR 2021). As more and more schools begin to embrace technology and specifically phone culture, students and younger teachers have cherished the ability to use their phones in class.

Are there any Positives?

Since birth, younger generations have grown up with smart technology and have developed the ability to be highly familiar with smartphones and their capabilities. Subsequently, students of younger ages have absorbed and learned information from platforms similar to those of smartphones. Due to this, many students are more comfortable taking notes from a smartphone than they are with a pen and paper. Many students dispute taking notes by hand because it limits the rate at which they can take notes and organize them, which can significantly affect a student’s ability to retain the material taught (Plowman 2010).   

Moving forward, students are strong proponents in believing that cell phones serve a necessary place in class as over 71% recorded that having a phone improved their productivity and improved their engagement by allowing easy access to related applications and search engines (Fernandez 2018). Technology is becoming more and more synchronous, making the obstacle of distraction seem inevitable to block. As a result, schools are beginning to adapt to technology rather than avoid it (Cornish 2012). 

It’s also important to mention that another significant reason students prefer smartphones being used in the classroom is their applicability. Phones and other personal technologies like laptops have allowed educators to engage their students with software that immerse students into the most efficient learning style. For instance, in 2005, the software Quizlet has captivated student’s attention with different types of learning modes (Atherton 2018). For example, one of the learning modes uses collaboration among multiple students and allows them to compete with one another. The software has even allowed students to assess their weaknesses in knowledge allowing students to retain extensive amounts of material at rapid rates (Van de Geyn 2012).

“Not every classroom can get a laptop every day, so [devices like smartphones], even if you have to pair up, become something useful for teachers.”

-Edward Graham

So What are the Downsides?

On the other hand, many teachers believe that smartphones are not used for the appropriate purpose in the classroom. The average student spends anywhere between five and twenty-two percent of their day on their phone among high schoolers. With a considerable share of students spending almost a quarter of their day on their phones, approximately 80% of that activity is directed to social media applications like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook (Paakkari 2019). Under the circumstances, it can be assumed that student’s attention is not always optimal in the classroom and possibly more so on social media. 

Although smartphones possess a variety of modern-day necessities, they have evolved to include software and apps made for pleasure and social connection. As previously mentioned, most phone activity from the average consumer is devoted more to social media-based apps than necessities. Correspondingly, people’s phone activity has become consumed with updating, checking, and alteration social media. For instance, in a study conducted by Midwestern University, they concluded that students who abstained from their phone applications during class on average recalled 53% to 70% of more information than those who did not. Further, they discovered that 60% of their phone usage was irrelevant to classroom material and was on social media content (Siebert 2019).  

Furthermore, personal devices have created quick and easy access to an assortment of information which has caused many students to only consume information over short periods before becoming distracted by another subject (Nidhal 2020). Although the phone’s ability to display users with an endless amount of information has benefits, it comes at a cost. Many users over consume information that can damage one’s mental functions. Recently, one case study indicated a strong correlation between consumption of one’s device and reduced cognitive capacity, the brain’s ability to perform operations to acquire and apply information. They named this relationship “brain drain.” In short, smartphones can have the ability to reduce one’s ability to learn information at an efficient rate when having an extended period of activity (Siebert 2019). 

“Many dedicated students think they can divide their attention in the classroom without harming their academic success- but we found an insidious effect on exam performance and final grades.”

-Arnold Glass on Smartphones in the Classroom- Professor at Rutgers University

Concluding Thoughts

The controversy among phones in academic environments can largely be attributed to the advancement of technology and its integration into the classroom. Technology in recent years has evolved in both its convenience and ability, allowing large portions of students to own phones and teachers to use them in lesson plans. However, as technology further integrates itself into the academic environment, it comes with positive and negative aspects resulting in debate among society. Going into the future, it is high schools and universities’ duties to slowly and efficiently integrate smartphones into the classroom allowing students to best succeed.

Carmen Ostroski

Cited Sources

Atherton, Pete. 50 Ways to Use Technology Enhanced Learning in the Classroom : Practical Strategies for Teaching. Learning Matters, 2018.

Bradstreet, Anne. “M Weblogin.” Sage Journals, 30 Jan. 2014, journals-sagepub-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/doi/full/10.1177/2329490613515300.

D. Siebert, Molly. “The Silent Classroom: The Impact of Smartphones and a Social Studies Teacher’s Response.” The Social Studies, vol. 110, no. 3, 1 Apr. 2019, pp. 122–130., doi:10.1080/00377996.2019.1580666.

Fernandez, Simon. “University Student’s Perspectives on using Cell Phones in Classrooms – are they Dialing Up Disaster?” TOJET : The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology 17.1 (2018)ProQuest. Web. 27 Sep. 2021.

Guessoum, Nidhal. “The Growing Battle Over Smartphones in the Classroom.” Arab News, Feb 10 2020, ProQuest. Web. 27 Sep. 2021 .

Johnson, Doug. “Stretching Your Technology Dollar.” ASCD, 1 Dec. 2011, www.ascd.org/el/articles/stretching-your-technology-dollar.

Lenhart, Amanda. “Teens and Mobile Phones over the Past Five Years: Pew Internet Looks Back.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 27 Aug. 2020, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2009/08/19/teens-and-mobile-phones-over-the-past-five-years-pew-internet-looks-back/.

Paakkari, Antti. “M Weblogin.” Science Direct, Elsevier, June 2019, https://www-sciencedirect-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/science/article/pii/S221065611830059X#bb0075.

Plowman, Lydia., et al. Growing up with Technology: Young Children Learning in a Digital World. Routledge, 2010.

Some Schools Actually Want Students to Play with their Smartphones in Class. Washington, D.C.: NPR, 2012. ProQuest. Web. 27 Sep. 2021.

Van de Geyn, Lisa. “No More Pencils, no More Books: Classroom Takes Innovative Approach to Learning using Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets and e-Readers.” Toronto Star, Aug 18 2012, ProQuest. Web. 27 Sep. 2021.

Wu, Mu. I Text Therefore I Am: Message Interactivity vs. Message Exchange in Addictive Use of Instant Messaging. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2016.

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