Just as many high school teachers are becoming comfortable with incorporating smartphones and other digital devices into classrooms to aid with learning, a new study finds that a majority of high school students are already using cell phones in class—to text, send emails, and browse social media sites.
The study, from researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel, focuses on 9–12th grade students at three different high schools. Out of the 591 students surveyed, a whopping 95 percent said they regularly sent emails or texts during classroom lessons, while 94 percent said they browsed file-sharing sites or social media sites like Facebook. Listening to music is another popular classroom activity, according to 93 percent of students, while 91 percent admitted to actually talking on their phones during class. Overall, 60 percent of students use their cell phones in class, with 10th graders the most aggressive cell phone users and 12th graders picking up their phones the least, according to the survey.
This may present a sobering reality check to many educators in K–12 schools who have been looking for the best ways to incorporate digital tools into their classrooms. Already the number of Web-connected computers per student is increasing rapidly across the country. In 2000, the ratio of students to each Internet-connected computer was 6.6 kids per every device, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_109.asp); by 2008 (the latest year for which complete statistics are available), that number had jumped to 3.1 kids per device.
Successful school programs utilize digital devices in ways that keep kids engaged, such as conducting polls during civics lessons or searching for materials on a school library site. But in practice, there can be a big difference between the efficacy of using school-issued laptops and tablets compared with students’ own devices, at least among the older grades, according to the study.
With personal devices, students have more control over their own tools—and the ability to hide their online activities, particularly on phones with small screens.
“Students use their mobile phones in various ways—to surf the Internet and access social media, to listen to music, take photos, play games, and send text messages and photos,” say the researchers. “Based on our findings, there is almost no moment during any class when some pupil isn’t using their cell phone.”