Smartphones: Distractions or Learning Tools?

You have likely been sitting in class and seen a fellow student on their phone, or maybe it was you who checked your phone amidst the boredom of a “too long lecture.”

Regardless, technology—and smartphones in particular—have found their way into classrooms. With all the educational benefits that technology has come to offer us, there have been some major drawbacks too.

The pros and cons of smartphones in the classroom pose questions for the life of a college student. While technology has undoubtedly helped us finish that final paper or translate the word we were too lazy to look up, it has also probably tempted us to skip reading our English book and turn to SparkNotes or simply reiterate an article from Wikipedia for our papers.

In class, are we checking Twitter or using our phones as learning tools? The odds are that when students check their phone in class it is when a professor is writing on the board or the student has their phone hidden behind their textbook, and that student is probably answering a text or checking up on social media. In this way, smartphones are becoming a distraction for students.

The distraction smartphones are becoming is not unique to MC. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln study showed that 86 percent of college students admitted to texting in class, according to The Huffington Post. Out of the 777 students interviewed, two-thirds of the students reported that they were checking email or social media. Further, the study reported that 55 percent of the students said they checked their phones out of boredom.

While smartphones have so much potential as learning tools, the majority of students aren’t using them as such. Consider sitting down for a test and using your smartphone for something as simple as a calculator. While this maybe your only intention, when you become stuck on a problem the temptation is there to simply swipe open your phone and Google the answer. Smartphones are not a reliable learning tool, when there is so much potential for cheating.

Smartphones have become a distraction for students. We are so caught up in what is happening on Facebook or Twitter that we aren’t present in the moment. The fact is we are not receiving the material we are being taught when our phone is buzzing in our pocket or our minds are wandering to what our friends are tweeting about.

This is something unique to our generation. Never before has a professor had to worry about students checking smartphones instead of paying attention. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that “passing notes” was the biggest classroom distraction.

Ultimately it is the professor’s decision to determine how students are using cellphones in the classroom, and whether or not to ban them entirely. If that professor thinks that a smartphone poses more benefits than negative impacts, then that is ultimately that professor’s decision. This is not an issue that requires a policy from MC administration. It is a teaching decision that should be made by each professor individually. In this age of ever increasing technology, we see, for the most part, an overwhelming number of professors who do no allow phones in the classroom.

Smartphone use has become a reality in our culture, as it seems we simply cannot live without them. A classroom is not the place for smartphones. With all the possibilities for distraction that smartphones offer, it is simply not plausible to think that every student will be focused on the lesson with their smartphones so readily available to them. For now, smartphones are just not viable learning tools.