How can mobile phones counter (not create) low-level classroom disruption?

Posted by Tom Harris - Last updated on November 24, 2022

In this guest blog from Tom Harris, Lecturer (Senior Tutor) at Greater Brighton Metropolitan College, he explores the use of mobile phones in the classroom and how they can not only help with low-level classroom disruption, but also build students trust, self-control and respect for others.

Modern communication technology illustration with mobile phone and high tech background.jpeg

‘Thomas, put your phone away and listen!’- Are you as tired as I am of saying this or something similar?

The constant phone battle is a big one, and it looks like it's here to stay. There are of course a ton of strategies that can be applied to this problem, but do they set our students up to be responsible? Or simply get better at sneaking an interaction with their mobile phones unnoticed?

Personally, I want my students to learn the skills of having the self-control to ‘simply’ not use their phone when asked, or when the environment doesn’t welcome it.

A phone box/ all phones in bags/ zero tolerance strategies are okay, but can create an unrealistic environment because it’s unlikely they’ll be in place in the work place or a real-life setting, so why not teach the lesson now or start practicing certain behaviours?


Build trust in the classroom

I want to be able to trust my students to make the right decision, in the moment.

I don't take my phone to class because I don't need it, students do however, sometimes, need theirs. If we go to the cinema or a meeting in the real world we may not turn our phones off, but we might put them on flight mode, because it suits the environment. To me, this is also appropriate for a lesson.

Turning it off seems like turning off a very valuable resource, the student does have a phone in their pocket that is niggling away at their social curiosity perhaps, but they also have access to a dictaphone, a calculator, a video camera, a camera, Google, spreadsheets, the internet, peers across the world and a voting system... Why turn off this incredible tool when we can turn it into an opportunity? Surely students just need to learn when this tool is appropriate, and when our ears or eyes, or creativity or communication skills are the best fit for the tool at the time.

I have found that the phone can be embraced to support a wide range of lessons. For example, having all the students get the Google Drive app means folders can be set up and photo evidence shared to the whole group in break times or after lessons, ready to be embedded into some work for the next lesson. This also means my students are becoming experts with this innovative tool by Google and when I need help to figure something out, they usually have an excellent base knowledge that supports me.


Help students to reflect on behaviour

With student consent I will often ask my students to film each other performing a skill (I teach Public Services, so this may be a micro-teach to the camera on map reading, warming up before an exercise session, performing a particular skill, presenting a slideshow) and have found that when the camera is rolling, low level behaviour issues evaporate. When a student is being filmed, language, listening to each other and analysing their performance improves. It more often than not creates a much more professional environment than when there is not accountability, or recording of the task.

This started for me when I used IRIS Connect to film a class that had a few students with consistent, low level behaviour. I filmed a few lessons and asked the students involved to watch it back, with headphones on and feedback to me on their own classroom behaviour.

This was an extremely effective strategy and allowed a mature dialogue to start between the students and myself. Seeing the lesson from a different perspective gave them an opportunity to reflect on the the way their actions affected the lesson.


Students can be quick to spot a lack of confidence , which can lead to issue with classroom management. Discover 6 ways to boost your confidence as a teacher >


Teach self-control and respect for others

Since then I have tried to explore as many ways as possible to get the students using their phones in a way that facilitates peer and self-review, as well as knowing when it is and isn’t appropriate to use their phones.

The majority of the students enjoyed seeing their own behavior and are now comfortable with presenting to the camera when needed.

Various tasks allow assignments to take on project management style tasks too - there can be presenter's, script writers, a camera person, location finders... the phone has not only allowed me to be very creative with lessons and to implement the students understanding
of the value of self-control and respect for others, but has given my students the opportunity to become teachers; to myself and each other during lessons.

The self-control my students have  combined with their awareness of the way that bringing a camera/screen into an environment can have on a scenario is a valuable life lesson that will help them in the professional world, whatever that ends up looking like tomorrow.


New Call-to-action

Leave a comment:

Get blog notifications

Keep up to date with our latest professional learning blogs.