Research indicates that it's time to shed some negative assumptions about mobile phones. Jeremy Sutcliffe reports 
The Smart GenerationThe upsurge in smartphone ownership is helping to feed teenagers’ passion for learning, according to a new study by a leading digital learning company.

More than nine out of ten 14-to-18 year-olds surveyed by video-conference specialists MB Learning said that digital technology enabled them to find things out for themselves (97 per cent) and to learn independently (95 per cent) while seven out of ten (70 per cent) said it made learning more exciting.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) also agreed that everyone should have the opportunity for interactive study online as part of their digital education. The survey of 14 to 18-year-olds in 55 schools drawn from across the UK paints a picture of young people growing up as confident users of digital media, keen to embrace the latest technology. They use it instinctively to network with friends and family and also use the internet readily to support their learning.

The study shows that teachers remain the number one source of support when students are doing homework or other self-directed learning. But textbooks, once the pre-eminent resource for students’ independent studies, are now being strongly challenged by specialist websites and other web-based resources.

One sign of the times is that Wikipedia is now regarded as a more important reference tool than traditional encyclopaedias and dictionaries.

Online learning platforms are becoming increasingly important as schools seek to harness the benefits of digital technology to support children’s learning. Asked to identify the main benefits of learning platforms, students named "Doing interactive activities’" "Watching videos" and "Being directed to relevant websites" as their top three. Least popular activities were self-marking quizzes and listening to audio clips.

Many teenagers spend more time with smartphones than TVs

The study, also found that more than two in three 14 to 18-year-olds now have their own smartphones and spend more time using them every day than they do watching television.

Easily the most popular use for their smart phones is social networking, with nine out of ten using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites virtually every day.

The study, "The Smart Generation: growing up in the digital age", is by MB Learning, which provides A-level and GCSE courses to schools via video-conference link, specialising in subjects which schools would not otherwise be able to offer. Subjects range from Mandarin to psychology and from criminology to law.

While the students surveyed used their smartphones primarily for social networking the second most popular activity for mobile phone use was finding out information and doing research. Given the popularity of mobiles as an information tool it is perhaps surprising, therefore, that so many  are against mobiles being used in the classroom to support learning, albeit by a narrow margin.

Split on potential for classroom disruption

Asked whether they agreed or disagreed that "Mobile phones are a potential source of disruption and should be banned during lessons’ 54 per cent agreed and 46 per cent disagreed. This supports the view of the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who shares the view of many headteachers that mobiles have no place in the classroom. Even so, the finding is unlikely to deter the growing number of educators who believe that, used appropriately, mobile phones, tablets and other handheld devices should be embraced by teachers as part of their pupils’ learning experience.

Young people are less equivocal about an issue that is potentially one of the most interesting and topical questions facing school leaders in an age where digital media is becoming pre-eminent as a means of communication. When asked "Should schools use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to tell students and  parents about events, announcements, achievements and other items of interest?" 60 per cent agreed, while 40 per cent disagreed.

The Smart Generation report also looks at some of the drawbacks of having a Twitter or Facenbook account, including "Cyber bullies", "Internet trolls" and "keyboard warriors" who hide behind a cloak of anonymity to annoy, intimidate and bully other social media users. These are also important issues for schools to consider.

"The Smart Generation: growing up in the digital age" is published by MB Learning 

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