Smartphones in the classroom: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.

Is it justified to call smartphones "educational tools"?

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Smartphones in the classroom: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.

Pixabay -- Free to reuse

Pixabay -- Free to reuse

Pixabay -- Free to reuse

Grant Stives, Staff Writer

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Have you ever been stuck in a lecture, either in high school or college, where the instructor would just ramble, and ramble, then leave you to do your work? Think about a time where you had a teacher that encouraged you to take out your phones or use your personal devices to interact with the lesson. Which class do you feel like you learned most in? If you said it was the technology-oriented classroom, you may not be alone. In fact, many teachers today are providing or encouraging students to bring their own personal devices into the educational atmosphere, but these students also can manage to stay on topic and still have time to handle personal matters. How’s that?

Today, in the educational atmosphere, smartphones are the best possible way to get information that is not only accurate, but fast — just fire up Siri or Google Assistant and ask anything. Fast, simple, done. But it wasn’t always done that way, and I’m sure you’ve heard the old “When I was in blah blah grade, I had to rely on the sun to tell the time”, sayings, but let me put this into perspective here, and hold your stomach, because this can be a little terrifying:


Let me take the opportunity to frighten the millennials and some early Generation Z’ers a for a little bit, some of these facts may surprise you…

There are a total of 50.4 million students in the K-12 system and approximately 80% have smartphones:


Total enrolled elementary school students with smartphones: 53%

Total enrolled middle school students with smartphones: 66%

Total enrolled high school students with smartphones: 82%

Statistics: Aligned with Pearson Education’s “Mobile Device Usage in K-12 Students — Survey 2015” Executive Report.


And you thought getting to a chance to play ‘The World’s Hardest Game’ on the single communal computer was the best thing on those rainy days in fourth grade?

The Good:

Throughout the past few years, teachers and instructors from traditional K-12 education and post-secondary education have taken advantage of the technology student’s possess. In some situations, they have made “device-friendly” classrooms where student’s are encouraged to make use of their phones for educational purposes. In many cases, school districts across the country sometimes lack the funding to bring more technological resources to the classroom, such as laptops. Now, a vast majority of students have smartphones that can do exactly the same (if not better) than laptops, and for those who do not possess a smartphone, they are able to use school provided laptops. These limited-supplied laptops are freed up from the influx of student devices. Some educational resources, such as Kahoot! allow teachers to create study-sets and open it up to a whole classroom of students. This way, in-class review sessions are not only more interactive, but allow students to use their phones as a resource to perform better academically. This practice also encourage peer communication. Other systems, like Remind, allow teachers to push out messages via SMS to student’s cell phones. In many cases, it helped students stay more organized and allow them to prioritize tasks based on their due date. If a teacher has a quiz planned tomorrow and would like to remind them to study, a few taps here, a few taps there, and out the message goes. Lastly, Google has planted itself in the educational technology platform with Google Apps for Education, as it’s becoming standardized across many colleges and local school districts. Essentially, a student can use the “Google Classroom” application to write and submit documents right from their mobile device. Could it be any easier?

The Bad:

No solution of any kind is perfect, and using cell phones do have their drawbacks in the academic world. It lies with the idea that they are still cell phones. In the modern day, students use plenty of social media applications, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, the list could go on. Distraction after distraction. Penn State student, David Ortiz, explains: “I think it can be good, but it becomes very distracting at times, especially during the classroom setting; however, I certainly think they are and have been useful tools in a variety of circumstances.” Think about the last class you were in, were there people on their phones while an instructor was speaking, or were there people on their phones during tests? I think the answer is obvious. The first thing that comes out at the lunch table, dinner table, during a school fight, during a catastrophic event, pretty much any possible thing during the day involved taking out one’s smartphone to communicate. Sure, that tweet is pretty cool, but there’s certainly no argument that it prevents personal, face-to-face conversations. Let’s not lose sight of the original topic here though either. Smartphones are notorious cheating and academic dishonesty as a whole. Personally, I find cheating hard, in fact, I think I may be the worst cheater out there: I need to understand what I am doing, and if I can’t understand something, and get questioned on how I knew the answer, I’m stuck in the mud. Nothing raises a red flag more than a student who under-performs, than suddenly over-performs on a test, it just doesn’t make sense. Google is a great tool, but that is a two-way street. Word something in that English essay too close to that source, and the instructor can just google it.

The Ugly:

There is one more important aspect that gets pushed under the rug more than it should in the educational system, and that is cyber-bullying. Since smartphones have instant access to the internet, cyber-bullying throughout educational systems have skyrocketed. Since smartphones have reached more teens, so has the ability to harass and bully. According to the CDC: Over the past fifty years, the suicide rates for teen males have increased more than 30%, and females have hit an all time high in almost 40 years. Many of these deaths are a direct result of embarrassing text messages, social media posts, and Snapchat messages, which have been shared with people other than the intended recipient.

Today, statistics related to bullying still remain pretty high, showing that during school, 1 in 3 students experience bullying while 34% of them experience cyber-bullying. This number continues to grow as smartphones and electronics become more and more readily available to the younger generation. (Megan Meier Foundation)


For the most part, smartphones and portable electronics remain one of the most useful pieces of technology to date, with plenty of miscellaneous functions. Fortunately, many of the “good” aspects of them outweigh the bad, but that of course is up for discussion. Until then, phones will continue to be updated and multi-purpose as both a tool to use for personal use and educational use.