Just in case you are new to the planet, new to teaching, or new to life itself, there is one fact that holds true for all middle and high school students…they forget stuff. They will forget textbooks. They will forget pens and pencils. They will forget paper and notebooks. They will even forget their lunch-boxes. BUT, the one thing that students will never forget…is their personal mobile device (phone/tablet).

It seems like today’s students are born with the ability to utilize smartphones and tablets to their fullest potential. As soon as an infant is able to make out the difference between mommy and daddy, they are introduced to mobile devices. These types of devices, in some cases, have become babysitters for parents who are always on the go. Don’t believe me? The next time you are in the grocery store, just look around. Where once you’d see a baby playing with a teething ring or a toddler looking at a picture book, you now see tykes of all kinds on their parent’s (and in some cases their own) smartphone or tablet. A child’s ability to master the art of social media by the age of 10 is only eclipsed by their ability to download hundreds of songs, sometimes without parents permission, in a matter of minutes at the age of seven.

Personal devices, like smartphones, give children the opportunity to hone decision-making skills, communicate with other individuals around the world, and create digital media productions that rival some award winning independent films. So why aren’t these devices being allowed in every classroom in America? With advancements in online curriculum and the rise of EdTech companies who specialize in web and app development that caters to education, one would assume that every middle and high school teacher from Barrow, Alaska to Key West, Florida would want to employ smartphones and tablets as “Personal Learning Devices” (PLDs) instead of merely “personal mobile devices.” So why aren’t we?

Perhaps it’s because we assume that only a handful of students have PLDs. Well, according to the Pew Research Center, 88% of American teens ages 13-17 either own or have access to a mobile phone of some kind…and 73% have smartphones *. This statistic means that roughly ¾ of our teens have access to a classroom tool that has the potential to transform them from “just a student” to “an awesomely performing student.” Moreover, schools who are spending tons of money, in an attempt to implement a 1:1 computer program, can stop wasting 75% of their budget because the students already have their own computing devices which can not only be used in a classroom setting, but at home as well (given they have some form of internet access, be it home connection or phone data). Can you say Flipped Classroom?

What about the argument that spotlights the possibility that students will abuse privileges and the PLD will become a distraction? If a district is worried about students not being productive because they are “distracted”, then they need to re-evaluate their classroom management procedures. A solid PLD use policy, with School Board, Superintendent, and Administrator backing, has the potential to be as effective as the modern dress code policy. If a student abuses the rules, they lose their phone…it’s that simple. After a day without their phone, they will quickly learn that the district means business when it comes to the PLD program. Furthermore, students will need to gain access to the Internet via the school’s student wireless network, so typical social media websites that they like to visit and waste time on will not be available thanks to campus network filters. Class rules like, “PLDs should be face down during instruction” and “No photographs of any kind without teacher and student permission” will have to be adhered to, or there will be consequences. Students need to understand, and educators need to follow through with, any and all school district penalties that apply to the PLD program.

One excuse I constantly hear and read about is the one that goes like this, “We would implement a PLD program, but our teachers just aren’t prepared to take on such an undertaking.” What? Teachers are asked, almost on a daily basis, to take on much more strenuous undertakings than merely rolling out a PLD program. Can you say State Mandated Assessments??? Teachers are resilient. Furthermore, they are begging for classroom tools that students will actually want to use and won’t take up much classroom time or space to implement. Tools that will not only teach content, but also keep the student engaged. Give a student an app or website to go to on their PLD, and the majority of learners will not only remain engaged, but also further develop their mobile device knowledge and aptitude…a true 21st Century skill.

The implementation of a PLD program will not “go off without a hitch.” There will be hiccups along the way. The current curriculum and resources that are available via website and mobile application are, in some cases, rudimentary and rough. But, as with any product from any newly developed industry, they will continue to evolve. Some educators will need to witness the value added to the student learning experience before they fully buy-in. And some parents will need to come to the realization that the use of their student’s PLD in the classroom has the potential to make their child a more successful learner, which will in turn make them more productive members of society. But with perseverance, schools will begin to see the fruits of their labor as State Assessment scores rise, and an increase in overall knowledge acquisition by students becomes commonplace.

The smartphone and tablet are already a crucial, if not mandatory, part of the everyday life of most teenagers. It won’t be long until every student in America has a PLD of some kind that is within reach 24/7. Let us prepare for that day by implementing, continuously evaluating, and creating effective PLD programs for our campuses. As educators, we should not let the future pass us by or fear the “what ifs.” Instead, we should embrace and harness the power and potential of the smartphone/tablet as we strive to find new and engaging ways to teach our students the crucial knowledge and skills that will catapult American students to the forefront of the global education arena.


* www.pewinternet.orgA Majority of American Teens Report Access to a Computer, Game Console, Smartphone and a Tablet” (April 9, 2015)

Mitchell Collin Fairchild

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