Student smartphone use needs to be controlled, but a blanket ban is not the best solution, warns Garry Falloon, Professor of Digital Learning at Macquarie University; following news of the NSW review into smartphone use in schools.
The review, which will be led by child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, was ordered by NSW Education Minister, Rob Stokes, to examine the effects of smartphone use in the classroom. It will address issues that include how smartphone use distracts students and cyberbullying.
“In my view, it would be difficult to support students having continuous access to smartphones in class, if their use was not linked to a justifiable learning purpose,” he said.
“It’s hard to contest the fact that for many young people smartphones are an important tool for their social interaction, but they can be highly addictive and very distracting. Effective learning requires concentration and task application – and this does mean Snapchat, Facebook or the like.”
Though there are apps that play a positive role, Mr Falloon added. “On the other side of the coin, many apps can greatly support learning across the curriculum, for example in science inquiries where there’s apps available that can help with scientific measurements, or providing simulations of experiences unable to be replicated in conventional classrooms,” he said.
“So I do not think it is simply a matter of blanket banning these devices, but rather managing their use. One really effective way I have seen this done in New Zealand is collecting devices before class and handing them back at the end.
“Any use is controlled by the teacher, thereby still enabling the productive benefits as described above. Students and their parents got to know the routine, and there were few issues. Those who broke the rules, had them confiscated for the day – or longer.”
Associate Professor Matt Bower, of Macquarie University, agreed that a blanket-ban on smartphone use in schools is not the right solution. He said that any smartphone technology used for bullying or off-task behaviours shouldn’t be confused with the underlying causes of this sort of behaviour.
“For instance, bullying has been a social concern for centuries, and without smartphones, bullies find other ways to harm their victims,” he said.
“While bullying is deeply concerning in all contexts, if it takes place on a smartphone rather than in the playground then at least the behaviour is on record and bullies can be held accountable.”
Dr Bower added that when it comes to improving student behaviour and avoiding smartphone distraction, ideally schools should be looking at ways to help students develop healthy relational and learning habits instead of banning smartphone usage.
“Every school and classroom is different, and a blanket ban fails to recognise that the benefits in some contexts may well outweigh the disadvantages. Research shows excellent outcomes relating to the use of mobile devices during targeted learning activities, for instance to enable more personalised, authentic and collaborative learning,” he said.
“Mobile devices can also provide children with access to new augmented and virtual reality learning experiences. This is on top of the safety and logistical benefits of being able to contact parents or authorities.”
According to Dr Bower, a more balanced approach may be for students to turn their phones off during class, when they aren’t being used for educational purposes. He said that teachers and schools should have well-developed and consistently enforced policies that spell out what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of mobile phones, and the consequences for inappropriate usage.
“It is also important that the review considers physiological issues associated with mobile phone use by young people,” he added.