50 Reasons It’s Time For Smartphones In Every Classroom

It’s Time For Smartphones In Every Classroom

by Terry Heick

There are many ways to use a smartphone in the classroom, but it continues to be a touchy subject.

Privacy, equity, bandwidth, lesson design, classroom management, theft, bullying, and scores of other legitimate concerns continue to cloud education’s thinking about how to meaningfully integrate technology in the learning process.

To be clear–learning can happen in the absence of technology. Integrated poorly, technology can subdue, distract, stifle, and obscure the kind of personal interactions between learner, content, peer, and performance that lead to learning results.

But increasingly we live in a world where technology is deeply embedded into everything we do. Thinking about it simply in terms of ‘digital literacy’ puts you about 5 years behind the curve. It’s really much more than that–less about being connected, and more about being mobile.

There will be growing pains, and I’m sure educators that have brought in BYOD programs into their school can come up with 50 reasons it won’t work. But most of those 50 are a product of the continued poor fit that exists between schools and communities–the system and the humans it serves.

Soon, the argument won’t be about smartphones, but rather steeper technology–contact lenses that record, and bendable, wearable mobile hardware that offers AI-produced haptic feedback to guide how students research, skim through information, or connect through media (all media will be social and will make an iPhone look like an abacus.

This an argument less about smartphones, and more about meaningfully embracing what’s possible in 2022 and beyond–a stance that could see education finally take a position of leadership in the use of technology to support how we make sense of the world around us.

50 Reasons It’s Time For Smartphones In Every Classroom

1. Students could Google anything–just like you do.

2. Used, they’re incredibly affordable.

3. They can therefore reduce rather than increase equity and access.

4. Self-directed learning will be a core tenet of future learning. This means technology, and the most mobile, affordable, and accessible kind of technology is a used smartphone.

5. Another core tenet of future learning? Mobility. Which requires mobile technology.

6. Texting in class is a classroom management problem–or even a matter of instructional design. It is not a technology problem.

7. Related gadgets like wearable technology are already here. Smartphones are already dated technology, but they can serve as a bridge to the near future

8. Workflow in classrooms is now based primarily on physical media, which often means shoehorning in technology. It’s time for the reverse

9. Students can create their own workflows.

10. The hardware isn’t overwhelming. Technology isn’t the point of learning, and should not overwhelm awareness, curiosity, interaction, or critical analysis in favor of mass publishing and communication.

11. It’s easy to turn them off, put them in airplane mode, etc.

12. Push and location-specific notifications have tremendous potential for personalizing learning.

13. There are privacy and safety issues–but not using the phones doesn’t make those issues go away.

14. Geo-tagging, game-based learning, and apps with adaptive learning algorithms that differentiate for you–or for the student, rather.

15. Zoom connects classrooms–as well as Zoom or Crikle or Google Meet or Skype, of course.

16. Students can create their own IT department or tech support teams.

17. Yes, there is a have vs have-nots with BYOD–some students will have better/newer phones than others. Again, this already exists outside the classroom. A student with an ‘old phone’ knows they have an old phone and not using it in the classroom doesn’t make them feel any better about that.

18. NFC and related technologies are getting smarter and more integrated into our lives, including beaming almost anything digital from here to there–to share, broadcast, publish, display anything in real-time.

19. Students can share data, tether, airdrop files, and more.

20. They support project-based learning, game-based learning, sync teaching, and dozens of other related learning trends.

21. File-sharing can be done more seamlessly.

22. QR Codes help accommodate mobile learning

23. Even a disconnected smartphone is 100xs more useful than a calculator.

24. Podcasts (a technology underused in the classroom) can be recorded, shared, broadcast, saved, or socialized anywhere.

25. They can be used as clickers to give teachers real-time data from quick assessments.

26. Backchannel conversations are possible.

27. Augmented reality allows for the overlay of physical environments with real-time data.

28. Voice-recognition and voice-activated apps are getting smarter–and could be a boon for struggling writers.

29. This would decenter the teacher.

30. This would liberate the teacher.

31. Smartphones in the classrooms empower students and relieve teachers–done properly, of course.

32. Every student has a voice

33. Students can have choice in terms of apps, platforms, social channels, assessment style, and so on. Smartphones can support this.

34. Smartphones can supplement laptops, tablets, and other learning technology.

35. Smartphones can function as a productivity hub for challenge-based learning–reminders, to-do lists, calendar updates, social messaging, emails, etc.

36. And they’re already in the pockets of most students.

37. Digital citizenship is a perfect segue to teaching human citizenship.

38. Digital literacy is as important as non-digital literacy.

38. Every student using a smartphone would naturally democratize what is otherwise an academic oligarchy.

39. YouTube is the most popular and diverse media channel on the planet. It may be time to let them use it how they want, when they want.

40. Students continuing to learn without access to the hardware and software they’re accustomed to using on a daily basis only further alienates and discredits schools.

41. Easy, persistent access to their previous thinking–i.e., digital portfolios.

42. White noise apps to provide background noise for reading and writing.

43. Don’t you stream music while you work? I do. Doesn’t have to be Eminem–could be Mozart, Gregorian Chants, or white noise.

44. Headphones, earbuds, and other related peripherals are becoming increasingly common–and useful (see #42).

45. Yes, it very well may be that we are becoming addicted to technology as a culture. Banning them in schools while pretending that your classroom is the last bastion for humanity is lunacy.

46. Kindle, iBooks, and other reading apps

47. Access to virtual libraries, museums, networks

48. Reddit and Quora, while full of flaws, are communities that model critical thinking, the nuance of content, and a celebration of learning.

49. Ease of data collection for teachers

50. It’d immediately disrupt everything from district filters and school policies to the role of students in the learning process, and the transparency of student work and performance in the classroom.

This article was originally written in 2015 and most recently updated in 2021.