Technologies of Information and Communication have produced important changes in almost all aspects of modern life, and education, of course, is also under pressure to take advantage of innovative resources and to prepare talent with technological capabilities for the future. It implies the introduction of changes in the learning environment and methods of teaching and learning, however, technological gadgets and especially mobile phones could generate distractions and lack of concentration in students, which could produce an underperformance of participants in academic activities. Allowing or establishing restrictions on the use of cellphones in the classroom seems to be a controversial decision that must be addressed after the assessment of potential advantages and disadvantages of establishing restrictions on a device that is nowadays an indispensable part of the life of most people more specifically for millennials and the new generations of young people always connected and completely embodied into the digital society. The assessment of the notions regarding this idea may help to adopt the best practices to obtain a good result in the classroom, fostering the engagement of students and taking advantage of resources available over mobile platforms. Allowing the use of cell phones in class is not harmful because it validates learning between teachers and students, encourages learning engagement, and promotes the development of asynchronous learning. Initially, owning a phone was just a desire that young people who were still in school had to deal with. To parents, children did not need a phone, especially while still in school thus young people were left to wishing they owned one. However, times have changed, and having a phone right now is a necessity, and not just any phone but a smartphone.
Many institutions were against the use of mobile phones in schools but as times changed, schools started allowing students to carry mobile phones but on the condition they do not use them in class. With the advancement of technology and institutions digitalizing their resources like access to online library books, students needed to shift from owning just a phone to owning a smartphone. My parents were not easy on me because despite the other students being allowed to have phones, they did not buy one for me saying I had to clear school first. My school had adopted the use of technology in almost all its activities thus the students who owned phones had it easy. I remember this one time when the teacher allowed students to use their phones in class to access a book that was needed for that period. Everyone got out their phones and quickly accessed the book. I was left there perplexed because I did not have a phone and I was the laughing stock of the class that entire week. I had to use the help of my class teacher to convince my parent to get me a phone. That was back in 2012. Even if the teacher helped me convince my parents, it was not easy still. They were convinced that having a phone can affect my performance in school. My parents were not the only ones who had this perception, a few other parents in the school believed that students should not have a phone, let alone use it in school. This paper discusses why a phone is now a necessity and not just a desire among young people attending school.
Beyond the instructional purposes in the use of cellphones in classrooms, some valid reasons are also exposed in the controversial debate regarding allowing or banning its use in education centers. The massive utilization of cell phones in higher education centers was documented by Tindell & Bohlander (2012) revealing that more than 95% of students take their cellphone to classes and 92% used it to text even during classes. It is important to note that burns and Lohenry (2010, cited by Tindell & Bolhander, 2012) found that by 2010, 40% of students declared to interact with their cellphone during class, causing a distraction for about 85% of students. This would constitute a clear negative incidence in the appropriateness of the learning environment in classrooms and is a potential source of academic dishonest behavior by students. The growing use of social networks and the habits of cellphone use by young people, consequently lead to the chances of these incidences have increased in recent years. Regarding the impact that the use of cellphones may be causing in the learning environment, Campbell (2006, cited by Tindell & Bolhander, 2012) found that despite that most students are unaware of the interference of using cell phones during class with the learning process, the ringing of a phone during class or the time spending texting, reduce the ability of students to focus on classes, creating a negative learning environment. The notion of the use of cell phones in the classroom as an impediment to effective student learning is associated with the use for non-academic purposes of the ability of such devices to connect to the internet. Although many students use helpful tools in class such as dictionaries, calculators, cameras, and web searchers. It is also known that smartphones are more commonly used to connect with social networks, texting, and searching information non-related to classes (Synnott, 2015). The author found that the underlying belief in students is supposedly their ability for multitasking behavior, being able to participate consciously in the learning process, and respond to different interactions through their smartphones, however, the evidence documented by the author suggests that this multitasking ability is commonly overestimated by students, which get lower grades due to the interference that the use of their smartphones creates during the learning process. Frequent texting, surfing on the web, visiting social networks, and leaving the classroom to take incoming calls are some identified compulsive behaviors where students focus their attention (Synnott, 2015). The common use of earbuds to listening music establishes also a barrier to effective communication with instructors in the classroom. Furthermore, students surveyed declared that the restriction on the use of cell phones in school would help to increase the overall academic performance of the classes by reducing distractions (Tindell & Bohlander, 2012)(Synnott, 2015)
The reality, however, is that students take their cellphones as an indispensable part of their lives and it is very difficult that this rooted behavior may change inside the school, therefore they should be used to validate and facilitate learning rather than work against it. The hidden use of cellphones and a creative set of rules that restrict the use of such devices during classes are time-consuming and many times, frustrating dispositions for students. Using these notions as underlying assumptions, the challenge of the academy is to develop mechanisms to integrate cell phones into the learning process to help validate learning. (Scornavacca, Huff, & Marshall, 2009) Several studies have demonstrated the potential that the adoption of mobile cell phones in the classroom may provide a learning resource growingly available (Engel & Green, 2011). The experience referred by Engel and Green consisted in the use of cellphones primarily as a response system, as a research tool, and as a tool for collecting evidence of students’ work by using photography and audio-recording capabilities of mobile phones.
The use of cell phones, a habit initially seen as resource-oriented to wealthy people and business executives, rapidly turned into a massive phenomenon. Several years ago, before the explosion of smartphones, easily downloadable content and social networks, the dilemma of accepting or refusing the use of cellphones in the classroom could be solved by proposing solutions to link the advantages of mobile phones as an instrument of communication, with the needs of the learning process. In this sense, the use of cellphones as virtual clickers was also tested in different real experiences with the purpose of improving the communication and interaction between learners and teachers. By using initially SMSs and latterly mobile apps, students may validate their learning, incorporating even the possibility of providing anonymous feedback to teachers. For teachers, it increases the possibility of follow-up for those students that have not validated the progress with the explanation received.
The convenience of accepting the use of cell phones in the classroom has been associated with an increase in engagement in students of different ages. According to Gaer (2011) the use of cellphones in an Intermediate-High ESL in high school education for adults, provided positive results in the learning process as these devices were incorporated as a learning resource, fostering the incorporation of some technological features into the common life of students such as Google Voice and the use of mobiles as mechanisms of interaction by using Audience Response Systems (ARS) (Gaer, 2011) As in the case mentioned above, the use of SMSs of any other form of interaction and feedback with teachers, allow the anonymity, encouraging to everybody to participate in the discussion and enable taking the classroom out of the physic limits of the school. A successful experience is also documented by Grant et al (2015) who argue that the potential for the utilization of mobile communication devices in the classroom is substantial. The use of these devices in K-12 classrooms validated some assumptions of the author regarding the Increase in the engagement of learners. The permanent connectivity allows for learners to communicate with classmates and instructors and access relevant content regardless of their location.
Some other advantages observed are that It promotes collaborative learning, as the use of MCDs increases the opportunities to discuss, collaborate, and interchange opinions. Finally, it fosters dynamic learning as learners create multimedia content (audio, video, text) blogs and microblogs, photography, social media posts, and SMSs to communicate with classmates and instructors. Despite the massive adoption of cellphones in the daily lives of almost everyone, the use of these mobile devices in school has been rather slow (Grant, et al., 2015) primarily because at the moment in which the article was written, many schools kept policies that banned the use of these devices in the school. The nature of such measures is based on the potential problems perceived by school authorities, associated with the use of cellphones during the learning process. The promotion of cellphones-based programs faces limitations regarding the cost of devices and services plans for schools, whereas the use of personal devices is commonly restricted due to the impossibility of schools to control, monitor, and filter contents in order to protect students (Grant, et al., 2015).
The potential of cellphone-based learning resources goes far beyond the physical limits of the school. Besides the possibility to create interactive and dynamic classes leveraged by the abundance of possibilities available by the use of mobile communication devices, there’s a promissory field of research in the development of asynchronous learning (Chang, 2010) which is a resource widely used in distance learning programs. Asynchronous learning allows students to access relevant educational resources in different moments than instructors and peers, enabling the adjustment of study habits according to their own needs. Unlike chats and other synchronous resources, asynchronous learning is ideal even for courses with a reduced number of students, a case that poses more difficulty to coordinate activities.
The use of cellphone based-learning activities, on the other hand, has also been successfully used in large classes, as it enables the participation, discussion, and general interaction of students through their mobile devices. A great consensus around the overwhelming benefits of embracing the use of cell phones as a learning resource and many successful experiences have already been documented. (Pilgrim, Bledsoe, & Reily, 2012)Though there are certainly visible benefits to the adoption of mobile devices in classrooms, the core of the discussion refers back to the debate on the potential interferences that the use of cellphones could produce in the learning environment. However, the very same concept of the appropriateness of learning environments must be assessed according to the new reality. In this sense, today’s (and tomorrow’s) learning spaces are fully networked areas, in which students and teachers use all technological gadgets available for their specific purposes.
In conclusion, a general consensus can be found that supports the idea of allowing the use of cellphones in schools as a natural and unavoidable part of the learning process which validates learning and teaching, increases engagement, and promotes learning inside and outside of the classroom. By setting rules and policies regarding acceptable and unacceptable use of cellphones in learning spaces, by promoting a challenging environment and useful and attractive content accessible through cellphones and mobile devices in general, it is possible to take full advantage of what advances in technologies offer to generations that are today and will be tomorrow in the classroom. A pending issue remains regarding the adoption of cellphones as learning resources which is the exclusion that this element can represent for some students. Despite the that the availability of cellphones is almost universal, today it is possible to find people that do not have a cellphone of their own or that have an old technology with limited capabilities. Taking into account this reality must constitute a guideline when it comes to developing content, applications, and academic requirements. The development of policies that allow filling that gap is an important part of the design of education policies. This topic, as well as the infrastructure of telecommunications, especially in rural areas remains a major challenge in developing countries. Nonetheless incorporating cellphones is not harmful to the classroom learning environment if it is cultivated properly and centered around interactive learning and teaching experience. There is no doubt that owning a smartphone is part and parcel of my and other students’ lives because it is a necessity and when parents accepted this point, they saw too from my point of view that young people need smartphones to operate.