This essay was written by Lee Yeongheon, a middle school English teacher who teaches in Ulsan, South Korea. She was inspired to write this after I asked her and other course participants questions for this post, Got Bandwidth? @IATEFL 2012. Yeongheon and I are excited to share this with you, and look forward to your comments and feedback.
If you have been to Korea once or more, you might find it hard to deny that Korea is one of the front runners in terms of technology. Almost everyone on the street or in the office seems to be enjoying their smart phones. If you have one, you can get help from the palm-sized device without difficulty. The use of the smart phone might be open-ended and its users are waiting to see what comes next. For some reason, all walks of life from office workers to housekeepers consider a smart phone as a must-have item. They always carry their phones with them. You may not be able to imagine someone takes your property from you.
Suppose every morning someone takes your phone away for 8 hours. On top of that, let’s say it’s a smart phone you’ve recently bought downtown. You won’t easily give up your ownership, and you may even argue or fight with the person who is going to keep your phone. This is what happens every morning in many middle schools in Korea. Frequently, I even have to wrangle with a couple of my students. It is a school rule for homeroom teachers to pick up their students’ phones, but some smart phone lovers never give up. Every now and then, this leads to a nasty tug of war between a teacher and a student. The school administration strongly believes that phones keep students from focusing on their lessons. Although it’s a rule, I cannot help but feel sorry for them. It is no surprise that those frequent ugly scenes help breed anti-teacher sentiment among students. The invisible conflict between the two parties might affect the classroom atmosphere at well.
I have seen a student tempted to look up an English word in his phone which survived in the morning pick-up. He and I were in a tricky situation because I have to keep his phone away for a week or more as a punishment if I see him possess it though he may use it with goodwill. My choice was to warn the whole class, including him, against phone possession. In my after-school classes, I used to let my students look up English words in their phones. Surprisingly, they eagerly joined the activity in a voluntary competition. In no time after I allowed them to use their mobile buddies, all of my students in the classroom started to speed up their search for words and ended up competitively checking and even comparing what they had found. Those who finished their work even helped their slow classmates with some nice jokes instead of teasing or blaming. Plus, it helped save time for the next classroom task. It was an unexpected success! Then I became confused and wondered if cell phones are helpful or harmful for English classrooms.
The presence of smart phones in English class may make many activities possible other than just looking up vocabulary. For example, students can do an activity to find examples or references using their phones. Sometimes, they can be better than the teacher in searching for information as most of them are born to play with computer. They can also provide the teacher with valuable sources they come across at any time during the class. In other words, the class can be not only active but also interactive. More activities may come out when students can have smart phones with them in class.
I know there are many concerns about the use of phones in class. However, I have heard some high school English teachers allow their students to use their phones in class. I doubted its efficiency when I heard that, but now recalling my experiences I’d like to approve the use of smart phones in class.