How smartphones can be used for educational development 

Smartphones have long-been touted as the enemy of education - is it time this perception was changed? Johnny Warström, CEO and co-founder of interactive presentation platform Mentimeter, argues the case. 

Chewing gum, trading cards, and football stickers: generations of schoolchildren have always had something confiscated by teachers trying to keep their attention on the lesson at hand. Then along came Steve Jobs and now we carry the infinity of human research and understanding in our pockets, all available at the touch of a button - and these are confiscated too. 

The prevailing attitude to this progression so far has been that classrooms and screen time don’t mix. You need only ask a teacher how many times they have to stop a lesson to confiscate a smartphone to get an idea of how distracting they can be. In fact, many institutions implement a uniform ‘no phones’ policy, an edict that applies most stringently in classrooms.

However, if used correctly, technology should help students engage more deeply with their lessons, through a combination of pupil participation, individual feedback, and user engagement. This type of environment is surely what Jane Prescott, President of the Girls’ Schools Association, was envisioning when she recently stated that phones need to stop being ‘demonised’ in schoolsMentimeter CEO Johnny Warström on how smartphones can be used in education effectively

Whether schools like it or not, smartphones are not disappearing, so why not teach students to adopt a healthy attitude towards them?

If the perception of mobile phones shifts amongst students from being a respite from work to a conduit for it, there will be a knock-on effect of a healthy attitude towards technology in general. 

Instead of being seen as a distraction, smartphones can level the opportunity given within each class, offering a voice to anyone and everyone, not just those who shout the loudest. Mentimeter’s platform means that lessons can be tailored to suit every class’ needs. Through interactive questions, quizzes, and slides, we encourage an engaging and holistic approach to education, combining gamification and positive reinforcement to foster an enjoyable and democratic learning experience. 

Furthermore, the anonymised aspect of the app’s voting mechanic means that students can ask questions without the anxiety of expressing alternative viewpoints or inviting ridicule. By encouraging group work in this manner, students can communicate better amongst themselves, as well as with their teachers. 

Gamification has been touted as having a positive impact on those further on in life: a recent study by TalentLMS showed that over 90% of adults were found to have achieved better results in the workplace when gamification was introduced; they also said it made them feel more motivated, happier, and more productive. If gamification looks set to enter the UK workplace, why shouldn’t the working practice be built upon in schools?

Other smartphone tools can offer tailor-made learning experiences. Revision and test apps such as Quizlet can lessen the workload of the teacher, affording them more time to spend aiding students who need direct interaction, while companies such as Poio are looking to educate primary-age children through imagination and gameplay. By introducing children to the relevant technology, the workload is taken off the teacher or parent, providing a resolution of mutual benefit. 

Of course, the worry remains that smartphones and tablets can be a distraction but this can be limited by individual school rules. For example, the aforementioned Jane Prescott has banned the use of phones in social areas such as the dining hall and playground in her school. By encouraging the responsible use of smartphones, schools are able to open themselves up to the limitless possibilities of their use.

The prevalence of technology can streamline and improve the lives of those who utilise it efficiently, and the education system should not be left behind. It is time to embrace the developing technology available to us and start encouraging students to use those supercomputers in their pockets. 

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January 15, 2020

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