Smartphones have become ubiquitous in our society. A survey found that 95% of students in secondary and higher education have smartphones and more than three-quarters of them use their phones for education. But if that were the whole of the story, then we wouldn’t be concerned about whether smartphones are a good idea in an educational setting. Ever since the release of the first iPhone, educators have debated whether phones are helping or hindering the education process. As with so many tools, the answer lies in how students and their instructors make use of them. In this article, we’ll review some of the top advantages and disadvantages of smartphones for students.
The question of technology in the classroom is an old one. The debate over whether to allow laptops in the classroom presaged the fight over phones, but to some extent this is the same argument that educators have had since Plato claimed Socrates opposed the use of writing in the classroom because it distracted students from memorization. Each new technology creates a moment of panic when educators feel that the challenges new technology pose to the way they’ve been teaching outweigh the effort it would take to adapt to the new technology.
That said, from the student’s perspective, there are many advantages to smartphones.
- They are important for emergencies. Let’s face it, we live in a dangerous world. Although we prefer not to think about it, emergencies happen every day. These can include weather disasters, health crises, fires, and, unfortunately, violent attacks on schools. When emergencies happen, having a smartphone to immediately call for help or to contact loved ones is an essential way of staying connected and staying safe. Many students do not want to be without this important lifeline when disaster strikes.
- They provide instant access to multimedia resources. In the old days, teachers would need to provide demonstrations or display multimedia in the classroom with everyone present in order to show how something works or provide more background and context. However, with smartphones, students can access multimedia enhancements for their lessons whenever they need. They can review demonstration videos several times, and they access supplemental materials in the style that works best for their learning style, such as audio, visual, etc.
- They are portable, allowing for education any time. Smartphones aren’t tethered to the classroom, which means that students don’t have to be physically present in order to learn. Whether they are attending virtual lectures, completing online homework, or consuming supplemental materials on the go, smartphones help students stay connected and keep learning whenever and wherever they are, on their schedule.
- They allow for personalized learning experiences. Smartphones also allow educators to customize the learning experience for each student. When you compete online quizzes or exams through a phone app, the app can adjust the difficulty of the questions to each student’s skill level. Phones can also be used to poll students to gauge their learning in real time, allowing educators to adjust their approach when students aren’t following the lesson. Because phones help to customize education to each student, they can enhance student success and create deeper and more engaged learning experiences for students.
However, while phones can provide a variety of advantages, they also create challenges that can be a detriment to students’ educational goals.
- Distractions. The single biggest disadvantage of smartphones is that they distract students from their work or lectures. Whether its gaming, social media, or even pornography, smartphones give students a number of distractions that can be more tempting than the schoolwork they are supposed to be focusing on. When students have phones at hand, the temptation to switch over to something more interesting can be overwhelming and irresistible. Indeed, the creators of apps purposely use psychological techniques designed to make them compelling, creating incentives to abandon boring work for the quick hit of dopamine that using an app provides.
- Disturbing other students. Everyone knows how annoying it can be when a phone rings or text messages ding in the middle of a lecture or an exam. While those distractions can be mitigated by asking students to set their phones to silent, what can’t be eliminated is texting and social media postings between students that can create interpersonal distractions and problems in the classroom. From sexual harassment to cyberbullying, a world of hurt can emerge from the secret communications students engage in when instructors aren’t looking.
- Cheating and academic dishonesty. Smartphones also give students access to resources to cheat their way through courses. Students can surreptitiously search for test answers on their phones, or even network with other students who have taken the course in the past to get answers, thus short-circuiting the education process. Similarly, smartphones can let students access online writing services like WriteMyPaperHub.com in order to hire someone to do their essays for them. When students need help with a paper, these sites make it easy to quickly pay experts to create custom-written essays for them. While students argue that such services free them from the excessive burdens that educators place on them, when used incorrectly, such essays can undercut the purpose of education. They should be used as aids in writing students’ own work not as replacements for it.
Overall, the advantages and disadvantages of smartphones come down to the self-control of the user and how committed the student is to education.