Cell Phones in Education: Resource or Distraction?

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New survey results from educators around the country convey mixed feelings about the role cell phones and other mobile devices can play in the education of today's youth.

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What should be the roll of mobile devices in the learning process? On one hand, devices like cell phones have been targeted for enabling students to cheat, text, and otherwise act irresponsibly during time when they should be studying. On the other hand, mobile devices can help students with quick research and provide a vital communication link to their parents, classmates, and even teachers.

Cell phone use by students while at school has been a particularly controversial topic. Many educators, tutors and teachers argue that cell phones are a distraction and should be banned. As recently as a few years ago, high schools around the country prohibited them entirely. Today, a more moderate philosophy prevails, and most high schools allow cell phone use in the halls between classes. (Middle schools still generally ban them.) It seems school administrators have accepted that mobile communication is an integral part of our society and that teachers should educate students on appropriate cell phone conduct rather than try to eliminate cell phones entirely.

To provide additional data to the discussion, WyzAnt Tutoring recently polled approximately 2,000 tutors from around the country to field their opinions. When responding to the prompt, “How do student cell phones impact the effectiveness of your tutoring lessons,” 44% of tutors responded that cell phones had no impact on the lesson whatsoever. Moreover, 14% responded that cell phones were a great resource for students. One math tutor noted that, “The ability to quickly look up math formulas and examples on my smartphone is an invaluable tool during study time." An equally compelling argument can be made against cell phone use, however, with roughly 42% of respondents claiming that “text messages and phone calls interrupt tutoring sessions on a regular basis.”

According to a recent study by the CTIA Wireless Association, over 90% of the US population now subscribes to cell phone service. Even young children are joining the wireless revolution; over 20% of 6-9 year olds and 60% of 10-14 year olds own a cell phone according to C&R Research.

This trend will only increase, and it’s up to parents and teachers to balance the pros and cons of using cell phones as part of the learning process. While there is no single solution, perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the early internet era. The internet was at first seen as a new frontier with dangers lurking behind each click, whereas today schools and parents have universally embraced the web as a medium for research, education and efficient communication. With appropriate safeguards and reasonable policies, perhaps cell phones and web-enabled smart phones can run a similar course.

WyzAnt.com is a marketplace where qualified instructors offer private lessons in academic subjects, test preparation, computer instruction, musical instruments, foreign languages and more. Thousands of people each day use WyzAnt to find qualified local tutors.

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Daniel Breiner
WyzAnt Tutoring
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