Are smartphone apps in the classroom a good thing?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH is Children’s media expert. He is the director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael Rich, MD, PPH
Michael Rich, MD, PPH

Last week he wrote about how Lady Gaga’s music may influence children not old enough to understand her provocative images and lyrics. This week he addresses a reader’s questions on cell phone applications in the classroom.

Q: What is your take on smartphone apps being used in the classroom? I know a lot of schools are using them now, and I’m not sure what to think about it.

-Smartphones for Smart Kids?, in Somerville, MA

A: Dear Smartphones for Smart Kids,

For most children and adults these days, cell phones are simply part of life, but what does that mean in the classroom? Schools answer that question in a wide variety of ways, from banning cell phones entirely to making smartphone applications integral parts of their lesson plans.

There are many potential benefits of learning with cell phones, such as that learning can happen in any location at any time, and that experiences can be personalized for each user. However, this field is young, and there are still many challenges to face: the variety of cell phones available makes standardization difficult, and using cell phones increases the amount of time that kids spend in front of screens during the day.

Consider this example of using cell phones for learning, which is detailed in a report from the Joan Gantz Cooney Center: Upon arriving at an art museum, each child receives a cell phone loaded with a program called MyArtSpace. This program is specifically designed to actively engage children in museum visits. With these phones, kids can “view multimedia presentations of museum exhibits, take photos, make voice recordings, write notes, and see who else has viewed the exhibit…Back in the classroom, they can…share material with other children and create presentations.” In this situation, the cell phone serves as a way to engage students more fully in an experience and focus their thinking in ways that best support their learning.

This example helps illustrate that, like all media, cell phones are tools—they can be used effectively for specific purposes in education. But like all media, their use should be supported by a clear understanding of why they are appropriate and useful in that specific context. By using phones in focused, goal-oriented ways to enhance an experience, educators can help model for students healthful ways of using phones in their out-of-school lives as well.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®