This qualitative findings report, edited by Leslie Haddon and Jane Vincent, collects the results from the fieldwork conducted between January and September 2014 in 9 European countries, where children, parents, teachers and youth workers were interviewed on the understanding of use, risks and safety issues relating to convergent mobile media. You can download the full report here, but I want to focus on the findings on using mobile devices in the classroom:
The qualitative research reinforces and extends the survey findings: rules about having and using smartphones in schools vary by country, by school, and also by the age of the child (with more tolerance for older children). While the use of smartphones is usually forbidden in class time and sometimes in school generally, teachers of secondary schools may make some concessions. However, teachers of the same student can set different rules and hold diverging approaches regarding smartphones’ role in class.
Sometimes students do not comply with rules: they forget to turn off their ringtones, they send texts, check social network sites secretly or play games (both in class and in the toilets). Some teachers note that such use can be difficult to detect. When rule- breaking is discovered confiscating the smartphone is the most common sanction. However, confiscating the phone can be a problematic strategy for teachers, when they have to take responsibility for safeguarding the device.
Access to smartphones in schools can be empowering for students, as they can in some circumstances independently verify what they are learning and record teachers giving views that are not sanctioned by the schools. But even children acknowledge that the use of smartphones in school can be distracting and hence often feel that devices should be to some extent regulated. More negatively, smartphones can be used against teachers, in terms of posting comments about or taking and posting pictures of teachers, amounting to a form of harassment.
Most of the problematic situations related to smartphones that teachers have to cope with relate to privacy risks or to the production and exchange of negative user generated content. Children sometimes feel that their teachers do not manage risky conduct appropriately, and would welcome a greater involvement on their part.
Challenges faced by teachers in managing and mediating their students use of digital devices include their own poor digital skills, the fact that devices can potential exacerbate the problem of plagiarism and the need to provide students with equality of access to technologies, which can be undermined if students use their personal mobile devices in schools.
Some teachers and parents do see the positive potential for allowing mobile device use in school, especially tablets. Their introduction could facilitate the more general trend towards the educational system becoming more digitally orientated, with access to interactive material, challenging children to look up material in real time and reducing the need for (heavy) paper books and resources. One barrier to allowing access, especially to smartphones but to some extent to tablets, is they are still not seen as being educational tools, but are more associated with entertainment and in the case of smartphones, with communication.