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Cell Phones In The Classroom: Learning Tool or Distraction

These days, more and more students are bringing cell phones to class. Even elementary school-aged students have cell phones in their pockets and backpacks.

However, the news of Ontario’s decision to ban cell phones in classrooms opens again the debate about whether or not students should have cellphones in school. It also brings up the question of whether it’s possible for technology to exist in the classroom as a learning tool—rather than simply a distraction.

Ontario’s Classroom Cell Phone Ban

Starting in September 2019, cell phones will be banned in Ontario classrooms during instructional time.

The new ban means elementary and secondary school students won’t be able to use their cellphones in the classroom unless it is for educational purposes, medical reasons, or as a support for students with special needs. How the ban is enforced will be up to individual boards and schools.

By banning cellphones, Ontario’s Education Ministry hopes to remove distractions so students can focus on acquiring foundational learning skills they need, including reading, writing and math.

The decision and renewed debate has many teachers and parents left wondering: can cell phones ever really benefit students in class, or are they best left tucked away?

Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of students having cell phones in school.

Cell Phone Use In The Classroom

Students check their phones in the classroom an average of more than 11 times a day. That can add up to a lot of time spent distracted from schoolwork. And when students are distracted, it’s a recipe for extra stress, frustration, and catch-up time for everyone.

With students spending up to 20% of their in-class time texting, emailing, and checking social media, it’s no wonder the debate about cell phones in the classroom is alive and well.

Students check their cell phones in the classroom more than 11 times a day.
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Learn more about the pros and cons of students bringing their cell phones into the classroom.

How Cell Phones Can Be Used Effectively In the Classroom

If properly managed, cell phones can be used as tools to help children learn in the classroom. The following are some of the pros of allowing cell phones in school:

  1. Using educational learning apps
  2. Cell phones give students access to tools and apps that can help them complete and stay on top of their class work. These tools can also teach students to develop better study habits, like time management and organization skills.

  3. Incorporating digital platforms into lessons
  4. Using social media can keep students interested in class and encourage them to participate in the discussion. Some teachers create twitter hashtags or message boards students can use during class discussions to share thoughts and ideas. This can be especially helpful for students who might not be comfortable speaking in class.

  5. Supplementing lessons with digital materials
  6. Teachers can take advantage of cell phones by providing students with resources to find more information about a topic. This can include videos, news stories, online discussion groups, and more. Allowing students to access these resources in class can help encourage participation and discussions.

  7. Providing easy access to more information
  8. Cell phones can give students access to more information, letting them research more about a topic while having class discussions. This is especially true for current events that have not yet been covered in school textbooks.

The Drawbacks Of Allowing Cell Phones In Classrooms

While cell phones can be used as learning tools, it is a challenge to make sure students are using them for school-related tasks. A cell phone can easily turn from “classroom learning tool” into “classroom disruption”.

Cons of allowing cell phones in school include:

  1. Distractions and interruptions
  2. When students use their cell phones to check social media and text their friends in class, it leads to distractions for those students as well as for their peers. This can cause disruptions in class, particularly if the teacher is constantly telling students to turn their devices off.

  3. Cyberbullying
  4. Cell phones can also lead to increased problems with bullying on the schoolground. Cyberbullying can be harder to see than other forms of bullying, making it difficult for teachers to identify and stop when it is happening.

  5. Cheating
  6. Cell phones can be a helpful learning tool in class. But they can also be used by students to access information while taking a test, leading to cheating. Even if a student isn’t caught, this can lead to him or her having a poor understanding of the material in the future, and is unfair to students who studied hard to do well.

  7. Disconnection from face-to-face activities
  8. While cell phones can help encourage participation by offering different channels, this can also lead to less in-person discussion and fewer learning opportunities. Learning to work together with others is an important part of students’ education, and can be lost with too much dependence on cell phones and other digital technology.

The Bottom Line: Should Students Have Cell Phones In School?

There’s no easy answer: there are both pros and cons to students having cell phones in school. Although they can be used as a learning tool in the classroom, this only works as long as students use them effectively.

This means for teachers who decide to use cell phones (or any other digital device) as part of their lessons, it’s important to set ground rules and keep a close eye on how they are being used.

Where do you stand on the cell phone debate? Let us know by tweeting @oxfordlearning on Twitter!

Related Resources:

Is Multitasking Bad For Students?
How To Study Without Being Distracted

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