Teachers are beginning to experiment with students using cell phones in class. A sign of the apocalypse? Probably not. In my own time, the introduction of calculator use by students was foretold as the end of students ability to do math. When my kids were starting school computer use was seen as intrusive rather than instructive. And I expect this is more of the same along those lines.
For years, most schools have prohibited phone use in school. More recently, many schools have allowed phone use when not in class, which is a concession to the reality that by high school most students are tethered to their devices. It’s actually less disruptive to let them have some access as long as it’s not interrupting their education.
Yet the reality is that the devices in most pockets are capable of way more than simply texting friends. They are small computers, and using them for educational purposes isn’t remotely a stretch. Further, engaged students learn more. And students generally like using their phones. Finding a way to incorporate those devices into lessons seems a natural way to keep students interested.
Certainly there will be challenges. The variety of individual phone interfaces and capabilities will make it hard for teachers to instruct students with similar but different tools. And there’s always the challenge of keeping students on task. Once the phone is out of their pocket or purse, how do you know they aren’t just chatting with friends or goofing off? You probably don’t. But then I have distinct memories of a classmate in fifth grade who kept comic books inside his textbooks so he had something interesting to read during class. The point being, kids have always goofed off.
The key element being that the powerful pocket devices these kids carry now, and likely will have always, can be extremely useful tools. Teaching them to fully exploit these tools to elevate their capabilities is what education is all about. This is just another technological evolutionary step.