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6 tips for teachers on using mobile phones in classrooms

A version of this article was originally published on the OU News Website on the 25th July 2018

In my previous piece (5 reasons why mobile phones should not be banned in schools) I argued that teachers should actively encourage the use of mobile phones in schools. This is not a trivial task. My research on the use of mobile devices in schools in the UK and Australia (see http://edfutures.net/ICT_strategy_research) and on children’s digital practices outside school and their influence on pedagogy inside primary schools (see http://www.np3.org.uk) highlighted some key strategies for effectively rolling out a Bring Your Own (BYO) device policy, which includes the use of mobile phones.

  1. Be guided by your educational goals – be clear about how the mobile devices will be used to enhance students’ learning - and explain this to your parents and students.
  2. Deal with the equity issues:
    1. Ensure all the children have access to an internet enabled device – provide a device for those few who don’t have one of their own
    2. Provide great WIFI access so that students choose to use your WIFI rather than their own 4G (as that will avoid equity issues for those who cannot afford unlimited 4G and gives you some insight into what they are accessing)
  3. Show that you value the use of mobile devices in your lessons – build their use into all your plans, treat them as important and useful tools to enhance learning – if you don’t value their educational use then pupils and parents won’t either
  4. Get your students on side – get them to decide the rules for appropriate mobile device use and what reasonable sanctions would be – if they want to be able to use their mobile devices in school then they will help prevent behaviour that might put that in jeopardy
  5. Let students choose when to use their devices
    1. have their devices visible on the desk when not in use so they are readily available if needed and to reduce ‘surreptitious’ use
    2. focus on the outcomes you are expecting rather than how those outcomes are to be achieved
  6. Focus on what you want the students to learn and don’t get drawn into sorting out their technical problems – this is much easier if students are using their own device as they won’t assume you know how to use it.

Implementing these six suggestions involves trusting students and giving them a degree of autonomy. This may represent a significant pedagogical shift which needs careful planning and implementation. It is not straightforward and will not magically eradicate problems such as sexting and online bullying. However, as evidenced by teachers who have made the transition it can have many benefits, such as enhancing students’ engagement and motivation (e.g. see https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/sep/10/mobile-phones-classroom-teaching and https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/sep/16/tablets-laptops-mobile-in-classrooms-teachers-tips).

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