For someone who loves tech as much as I do – and who is pretty much surgically grafted to the shiny little computer that we all now keep on our hips – the issue of phone use in college is a difficult one for me.
In the pristine ed-tech utopia set out in many a sales pitch, students would use their phones to enhance their education with near effortlessness. There would be a constant researching, creating and discovering using the digital window to the world that they keep snugly in their back pocket.
However, in my world, when it comes to students and smartphone use, gone are the white shiny surfaces and instant UI-fuelled enlightenment. Lumbering up in their place is a Cronenbergian nightmare of humans melding with machine, where it’s difficult to tell where one stops and the other starts.
You’d think that in a college – with a student body who, on the whole, are a little older – there’d be a greater self-regulation when it comes to phone use. And much of the time there is.
But there is also a lack of attention, an extension of the reach of bullying and other aggro, inappropriate photo taking and sharing and a host of other crappy behaviours that go hand-in-hand with handheld devices. Let alone the running battles I’ve witnessed when seven students need to charge their phone and there’s only one socket in the room.
“Ah,” I hear you cry. “Why don’t you teach the students to use their phones more effectively for learning?” If I had unlimited time and our students didn’t get to us with their phone-use behaviours pretty much entrenched then I’d be doing that. But I don’t have unlimited time. I can point them in the right direction, but they might not hear me over this video they’ve just found. It’s proper sick.
All this represents is a lost opportunity. I want the dream. I want students to utilise this incredibly powerful tool to their advantage when it comes to their education. I want to not have to rely on a trolley of laptops that were cutting edge when Steps were shimmying up the charts.
But this process of academic smartphone use doesn’t happen by accident: it has to be planned for and taught. And that education has to start earlier than by the time they meet me. It also goes hand-in-hand with a modicum of control on behalf of the students – and if I’m honest, I’m just not seeing that.
As it stands, I’m seeing smartphone use in college as a hindrance to learning rather than something that should accelerate it. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.
So before you go thinking that BYOD will solve all your IT budgeting issues, or that there’s no need to have libraries because the students can find anything they need to online, have a think: just because they can, doesn’t mean that they will. Until they do – and this breaks my heart to say so – those phones best stay in those pockets.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England