There is an ongoing wireless war about the use of cellphones in classes across Canada.
On one hand Shahnaz Khan, a Toronto teacher, has publicly asked parents for their permission to confiscate student’s cellphones. Meanwhile, in Oshawa, many instructors at Durham College are incorporating the technology into their school content as a learning tool for education.
Virginia Harwood, is an award- winning law professor in the school of Justice and Emergency Services at Durham College.
She uses Top Hart technology as part of her daily class. Top Hart is an app that can be used on a phone to respond to questions. It is a learner response system with many capabilities. A professor can ask students questions and they can respond immediately using their cellphones.
“If I put up a question in a regular classroom, a student would have to put up their hands. In this case everyone can answer the question and know if they are actually understanding the material or not,” says Harwood.
This can also provide shy students with the opportunity to take part in activities without having to speak out loud in class.
“In a classroom of fifty students I can’t always gauge if everyone is understanding the material immediately. Sometimes I have to wait until a test, this way if 60 per cent of the class gets that question incorrect I can go back immediately and ask the class to do an activity around it,” says Harwood of the advantage of Top Hart.
Durham College is not the only school using cellphones. School Boards in Manitoba and the Durham Catholic District School Board integrated BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) into their school curriculum for educational purposes.
Students are allowed to use cellphones to have access to the tools and information necessary for learning. The school boards say BYOD improves student success.
Gary Gannon, a Human Resource professor at Durham College, says the college encourages students to use cellphones if it’s a means for information. For him the problem is when it becomes a distraction in the classroom.
“Personally I don’t have a problem with cellphones in the classroom, because at the college we now encourage people to utilize technology for learning,” says Gannon.
But teachers such as Shahnaz Khan say they can be a big distraction for students.
“It can be everything from not paying attention, just being really inattentive, and I find that particularly the kids who are vulnerable miss important information and are tuning out of class discussions,” she says.
Khan says the quality of the classroom experience is less.
The topic of technology has always been controversial. So students at Durham College were quick to give an input.
“I personally use my cellphone to take notes,” says engineering student Stephanie Manser.
Students such as Manser say their cellphones are important to their education, which includes note taking and finding information.
Virginia Harwood says cellphones can be used as learning tool rather than a distraction.
For Harwood it is all about making the technology educational.
“I think if we can harness the mobile device as a learning tool it will help us in terms of student learning,” she says.