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The educational use of smart phones in my classroom, is it possible?

Although the educational potential may seem promising, there are challenges and issues related to the use of mobile devices in the classroom, particularly with regard to inappropriate use by students. Michelle Deschênes and Séverine Parent discuss the issue in this article.

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By Michelle Deschênes (Professor in educational psychology for vocational education, University of Quebec at Rimouski) and Séverine Parent (Professor in educational technology and digital literacy, University of Quebec at Rimouski, Lévis campus)

This text was first published in the magazine La Foucade (Flight. 20, no 2, June 2020), produced by the Quebec Committee for Young People with Behavior Difficulties (CQJDC). It is reproduced by École branchée with the agreement of the authors and managers of the magazine.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students who have a device that can receive and send text messages (Beaumont, Leclerc & Frenette, 2018). At the primary level, there was an increase from 61 % in 2013 to 79 % in 2017. At the secondary level, the rate rose from 76 % in 2013 to 92 % in 2017. Among 12 to 15 year olds, one in two young people own a smartphone. or multifunctional (CEFRIO, 2017).

This use of multifunction telephones by young people raises issues relating to digital citizenship, defined as the fact of “having equipment and skills linked to ICT [information and communication technologies] […] allowing them to participate in digital society ”(UNESCO, 2011, p. 102).

Although this is a widely used expression, we have reservations about the use of the term “intelligent”. We prefer the term "multifunction telephone".

An opportunity to support students

Digital devices in the classroom, whether tablets, laptops or phones, can be used in many ways. They make it possible in particular to do research, answer interactive questionnaires, participate in conversations on educational social networks, access files, take photos and produce video montages.

Beyond the potential of mobile devices to support learning, the use of phones in the classroom makes it possible to tackle topics related to citizenship in the digital age. In its Digital Action Plan, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEES, 2018, p. 34) affirms that “educational establishments must effectively support students […] in their use of digital technology and get them to adopt responsible behavior ”.

Thus, it seems essential to address topics such as digital health, digital identity, image rights, cyberbullying and plagiarism. In addition, “acting as an ethical citizen in the digital age” is at the heart of the Framework.
digital competence benchmark (MEES, 2019).

Although the educational potential may seem promising, there are challenges and issues related to the use of mobile devices in the classroom, particularly with regard to inappropriate use by students. Without addressing cyber addiction, it is clear that the omnipresence of smartphones has repercussions in our real and virtual lives (for more details, see the file "It's time to drop out! " from L'actualité magazine).

Various initiatives have been put in place in schools to support students in the use of their telephone and the various applications to which it gives access. In some schools, teachers use resources such as "Towards a positive identity in the digital age" to animate activities. Teachers use a contract signed by the student and his parents to make them aware of the responsible use of their digital tools. In other schools, a member of the police force meets with students to discuss topics such as cyberbullying and social media. Elsewhere, informal discussions are held when the teacher deems it necessary.

Resources are available to discuss image rights and responsibilities and cyberbullying. The youth section of the Educaloi site has a page on image rights and cyberbullying prohibited by law. The section Digital challenges of the Habilo Médias site also offers various resources.

Strategies for leveraging mobile devices

Efficient use of mobile devices in the classroom is managed like any other behavior in the classroom: preventing indiscipline through effective classroom management (Gaudreau, 2015). Thus, it can be interesting to take advantage of mobile devices in the classroom by putting in place strategies upstream and intervening when the situation requires it. Giving clear benchmarks helps to encourage appropriate use of tools not only in the classroom, but also in
the daily life of students (Moreau and Bigras-Dunberry, 2017).

Work upstream

To ensure the most harmonious pedagogical integration of mobile devices possible, certain reflections are necessary and certain actions should be taken beforehand.

Provide for institutional reflection

As a school team, discuss the pedagogical possibilities and the constraints perceived by each one. Determine what constitutes acceptable behavior in device use, both by students and teachers.

You will thus be able to help promote safe, responsible and healthy use of mobile technologies (UNESCO, 2013). France and Ontario have chosen to ban smartphones in the classroom. In Quebec, some initiatives inspired by BYOD (Bring your own device, a term translated by AVAN for “Bring your digital device” or “Learning with your digital device”) where students are asked to bring a digital device, take place in certain schools or in certain classrooms. However, it seems that the majority of elementary schools ban telephones.

In secondary school, it seems that the supervision is more variable: the management of telephones is sometimes left to the discretion of the teacher, school rules sometimes allow them to be used during breaks. In other establishments, it is prohibited at all times. Classroom bans unfortunately deprive education of new perspectives and can prevent innovation in teaching and learning (UNESCO, 2013).

Numerous testimonials from practitioners in the pages of the École branchée magazine or even sharing of practices at the AQUOPS congress make it possible to testify to a successful integration of the telephone in the classroom, in particular for the integration of virtual reality in the classroom. . The RÉCIT en univers social site offers activities to integrate virtual reality using, in particular, a smart phone.

A reflection on the use of smart phones is also taking place in post-secondary institutions, both college and university. While no policy seems to have completely banned it in postsecondary education, the support needs for the integration of ICT, in particular the development of the skills of students, but also of teachers, in terms of the educational use of mobile devices in the classroom. is identified as an outstanding challenge (Working Group on the Use of Mobile Devices in the Classroom, 2015).

The article "Do tablets and cellphones have a place in CEGEP?" Interview with Nicole Perreault, host of the REPTIC Network ”published in Profweb.ca in February 2018 highlights some challenges of college mobility.

Include students in defining classroom rules

Once the broad outlines have been defined, it is interesting to involve the students in the drafting of rules governing the use of mobile devices in the classroom (Trussart, 2017). It is then possible to take the opportunity to explain your limits. To clearly mark out the times and situations when the use of devices is desired, permitted or prohibited, different strategies are possible: verbal explanations or the use of pictograms. Do not hesitate to remind you of the rules at the start of the day or at the start of class.

Choose times, activities

To maximize the positive impact of using mobile devices in the classroom, plan to use them in activities where the devices will redefine the learning experience. The SAMR model (Puentedura, 2010) proposes for this purpose four levels of pedagogical integration of ICT, moving from transformation to improvement: redefinition, modification, increase and substitution.

Using a multifunction telephone to take notes that could have been taken on paper may be of little interest to students, the device replacing paper with no added value. The possibilities of educational or general public software make it possible, through the functionalities they offer, to improve the activity: for example, the fact of recording the notes online makes them more accessible since it is possible to make research.

A reconfiguration of the task, by having students collaborate in simultaneous and collaborative note-taking, for example, would make it possible to envisage more interesting pedagogical repercussions. In addition, as Stéphanie Lemieux, assistant principal in a secondary school, reminds us: “To integrate technology into the classroom, it is not necessary to be an expert in technology, but in pedagogy”.

Intervene as needed

Even if the rules are defined in collaboration with the students, and even if the times of use of the digital devices are clearly specified, some students may not use the devices in an appropriate way: students who text, who access to social networks which do not support educational activity, which watch videos, which take pictures without being authorized, for example.

If this happens, the same strategies you use when any type of inappropriate behavior can be used: explicitly teaching and reinforcing expected behaviors, intentionally ignoring certain behaviors, applying logical and natural consequences in response misconduct (Webster-Stratton, 1999; WebsterStratton, Reid and Stoolmiller, 2008: cited in Gaudreau, 2015). Your students will be on familiar ground and so will you.


Different development opportunities related to the use of mobile devices are available, including RÉCIT self-study and CADRE21 or workshops at the AQUOPS annual conference. Do not hesitate to be accompanied and to discuss with your colleagues. Interesting discussions are taking place on social networks, especially on the Facebook group ICT in education or by following the hashtag #eduprof on Twitter. You will thus be able to better contribute to preparing students for higher education and, more generally, to being citizens in the digital age.

- Beaumont, C., Leclerc, D. and Frenette, E. (2018). Evolution of various aspects associated with violence in Quebec schools 2013-2015-2017. Québec, Qc: Well-being at school and violence prevention research chair, Faculty of Education: Université Laval.
- CEFRIO. (2017). Connected viewing by young people in Quebec. Use of the web, social media and mobility. Montreal, Qc: CEFRIO.
- Gaudreau, N. (2015). Prevent indiscipline through effective classroom management. La Foucade, 15 (2), 3-4.
- Working group on the use of mobile devices in the classroom. (2015). Use of mobile devices in the classroom. Report. Quebec, Qc: Laval University.
- Lemieux, S. (2020, February 5). Integrating digital in class smoothly: discussion with two students.
-Ministry of Education and Higher Education. (MESES). (2018). Digital action plan in education and higher education. Quebec, Qc: Government of Quebec.
- Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEES). (2019). Reference framework for digital competence. Quebec, Qc: Government of Quebec.
- Moreau, C. and Bigras-Dunberry, C. (2017). Supervision of mobile technologies in the classroom for an active engagement of students. The table, 6 (4), 1-2.
- Puentedura, RR (2010). SAMR and TPCK: Intro to advanced practice.
- Trussart, 2017). Classroom management in the digital age (part 1): Between consistency and tolerance.
- UNESCO. (2011). UNESCO ICT: a competency framework for teachers. Paris, France: Author.
- UNESCO (2013). Guiding Principles of Mobile Learning. Paris, France: Author.

The authors of the text sincerely thank the teachers who answered the call to all on the use of the questionnaire in class. A very special thank you to François-Henri Lafarge and Gilbert Olivier who agreed to reread the text and improve it before its publication.

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