Walk around a college campus, and you’ll see students chatting, laughing… and plugged into their smartphones. Clearly, students enjoy engaging with these interactive, trendy tech tools.

You know smartphones are popular. But have you been wondering what kind of effect they have in the classroom? Cengage Learning wanted to find out as well, so we asked students and instructors about their experiences seeing, and using, smartphones in class. Thousands of students and instructors responded; we’ve shared the findings below.

Students vs Instructors on smartphones in the classroom

Smartphones: a common sight in today’s classrooms

Seeing a large number of students pull out their smartphones as they settle into class? You aren’t alone. 92% of instructors who responded to our survey told us that they see smartphones in their classrooms.

On an individual level, 77% of students wrote that they bring a smartphone to class, so there’s a strong likelihood that three out of every four students in your course will have one on their desks or in their backpacks.

Given that such a large percentage of students bring their smartphones to class, and that so many instructors notice them, it’s inevitable that some might find that they take away from students’ learning experience. But is that really the case?

Do smartphones distract students? Depends on who you ask…

We asked students if smartphones distracted them from the learning process. 63% responded that no, they’re not a distraction.

Instructors see things quite differently. When asked, 72% of instructors said that smartphone use does distract students from learning. Part of this stems from what is quite literally, a different perspective: a view from the front of the classroom. Instructors can see when students appear disengaged, and they know how it effects their teaching process as well; 46% say that students’ smartphone use distracts them while they’re teaching.

Obviously, to the best of your ability, you want to curb any behavior that pulls students away from the experience of learning in your classroom. But does that mean you have to stop students from using smartphones in your classroom? Or, can you use them, and other digital devices, as a means of engaging students?

How smartphones can engage students in the learning process

Many instructors and students are already using smartphones as a learning tool. According to our survey, 56% of students would enjoy using their smartphones as study tools, and 43% of students already do use their smartphones as they study. On a similar note, 44% of instructors have tried using smartphones as learning tools in their courses.

With this strong level of interest, it’s worth investigating how you can add use of these interactive, engaging tools to your teaching repertoire. To start, consider how you could encourage students to use them in support of the learning goals you’ve established for your course. Below, we’ve included a few ideas for using smartphones in class:

  • Pose a question, and ask students to search for the answers. As they respond, prompt them to think critically about the information that they’ve found. (The first search result isn’t always the best search result!)
  • Use an app like PollEverywhere to encourage participation and engagement around the ideas and issues you’re presenting in class.
  • Create a “scavenger hunt”: Design an activity that focuses on a real-world challenge related to your course topic. Then, have students report on what they’ve found, either in the next class, or in an online forum such as a blog or your LMS discussion board.
  • As you might assume, and as we confirmed through our survey, not every student has a smartphone (or brings it to class). If that’s the case in your classroom, you can group students into pairs or teams, and the student with the digital device can be the one to look up information, work through a problem on an app, or submit answers.

What is your experience with smartphones in the classroom? Do they cause distractions or other issues? Or, on the other hand, have you encouraged students to use their smartphones as a means of participating in the class? Share your ideas and thoughts below.