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Published September 5, 2019 | Multidisciplinary

Managing Smartphone Distraction with Apps

Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. While the debate rages on about the place of these devices in classrooms, those teachers that want to help students to self-regulate their cell phone usage can tell them about a couple of apps designed to limit distraction.

The on-going debate

As the Fall 2019 semester began, it seems as if stories were being filed everywhere in the French and English media about schools that are considering outright bans on the use of smartphones (ex. reports from CBC Montreal and TVA).

While there are some establishments that are looking at bans as a measure of managing distraction, other establishments prefer to set clear policies on acceptable and unacceptable use of mobile technology.

College teachers may wish to maintain their right to choose what is appropriate for their classroom. To help teachers determine guidelines for the appropriate use of technology, Profweb published a 3-part in-depth report about classroom management in the digital age. Part 1 of this report is about striking a balance for the use of smartphones in class by students.

For certain students, the smartphone is an important tool that is part of their work process. The Adaptech Research Network published an article in May of 2019 that reminds us that mobile technology can also be used to make the classroom more accessible for students with a variety of needs. During their research, 2 smartphone apps that can be used to self-regulate smartphone use during class time were alluded to during interviews with students and professionals.

Forest

In the Forest app, students plant a virtual tree with a species of their choice and set the amount of time that they need to avoid using their phone. The app, which is available for Android and iOS, gamifies the process of staying focused.

Those students that respect the timeframe they set for themselves are rewarded with a tree for their forest, which functions as a sort of virtual trophy case to show off all the trees that the student has grown by staying focused.

If students make the unfortunate choice of consulting their phone by clicking on the “Give Up” button, they kill the tree that they have planted.

Screen captures of the Forest app. Students plant a tree and can display the trees they have grown by staying focused. The app can show usage data. Students that “give up” and use their phone during the restricted period are faced with a dead tree (Images courtesy of Seekrtech/Forestapp.cc).

The Forest app offers an interesting approach to keep students from using their phone for a pre-set period of time. The app appeals to the user’s emotions and sense of environmental responsibility. Who wants to kill a tree? And the web site for Forest states that they have a socio-economic mission, having partnered with a tree-planting organization called Trees for the Future. As of the time of writing, the forestapp.cc website states that 526,705 trees have been planted through this partnership.

Targeting specific apps

If teachers want to integrate the use of cell phones into their classroom practices, they may be interested in suggesting a solution to students that targets specific apps.

The Focus Lock app (available for Android) is designed for users to target specific applications that they find particularly distracting (ex. social media apps) in contrast to the Forest app which is designed to keep students from using the phone altogether for a certain period of time. In the Focus Lock app, and you choose the applications to lock down for a specific period of time and you can set break periods where you can have a break that provides access to these apps.

An overview of the Focus Lock app.

Find your own balance

While smartphones offer a variety of new possibilities in the classroom, it is always a good idea to provide students with examples of what is acceptable use of the technology and what is unacceptable. Make sure the rules are clear and remind students that maintaining focus is an important life skill that will contribute to their on-going success both within and outside the classroom!

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