“Oh yes,” says Samantha DeWitt, a second year student at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham. “Everyone I know now talks about how they make newspapers everywhere.”
Michael McCarthy, English teacher at Chelsea High School, adds: “Even my PA students sometimes [a paper] virtually everything on their phone. He got used to hearing students say, “I couldn’t print it out, but here it is on my phone.
Like many teachers, McCarthy views the trend with a combination of wariness and curiosity. But whether this latest digital evolution is an admirable sign of adolescent ingenuity or the latest proof that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, it was probably inevitable.
Today’s smartphones, after all, are veritable supercomputers capable of everything from capturing high-definition video to securing dinner reservations. Meanwhile, a near-lifetime of cellphone use has left countless teenagers more adept at typing on a roughly 2-inch by 3-inch smartphone screen than on a computer keyboard.
And with extracurricular activities gobbling up after-school hours, many students do their homework where they can, making the cellphone – that portable piece of supercharged wonder – the instrument on which many essays end up being composed. .
For students, the appeal is obvious: why chain yourself to a desk — or a laptop, for that matter — when you don’t have to?
Inspiration strikes you? Are you bored on the bus? Got some time to kill in a doctor’s waiting room?
“You can just pull out your phone. . . and make some quick tweaks,” says Marshfield High School junior Daniel Heine.
Not too long ago, DeWitt was competing in an out-of-town swim meet when she realized she had forgotten to complete an English homework due the next day.
No problem. She simply did what she often does when a writing assignment is due: she pulled out her smartphone, launched Google Docs and, between errands, wrote an article on Julius Caesar.
“I did it pretty quickly,” she says.
It’s not just about emergencies, though. Some students prefer their phones to computers outright, using them to write multi-page research papers on in-depth topics ranging from “Hamlet” to ISIS to the thematic implications of “The Great Gatsby” in its relationship to non-fiction works. .
In addition to his pool work on Caesar, DeWitt and a classmate recently wrote the majority of an eight- or nine-page chemistry paper via cellphone, working in a document the two could access at will. At Walpole High School, sophomore Christine Murray has written an estimated 20 articles on her cellphone – even though her mother is still adjusting to it.
“Sometimes my mom comes into my room and says, ‘Christine, I told you to hang up a few minutes ago, you need to start doing your homework,'” Murray explains. “And I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m Do my homework.’ ”
With technology readily available – a number of apps including iPhone Notes, Google Docs and Microsoft Word are available via smartphone – some districts have inadvertently or inadvertently helped pave the way for this latest homework trend.
In the Foxborough School District, students have access to Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based program that allows them to access the Office suite, including Word, from their smartphones. And at Walpole High, Murray says, some teachers assign homework through Google Classroom, which can send notifications directly to student phones.
Technology in education has long been a source of debate, and the use of cellphones in classrooms has been particularly polarizing.
Admittedly, compositions for mobile phones can sometimes be a problem for teachers. There are the autocorrect and formatting issues. The process of transferring a cell phone file to a paper format creates an additional hurdle that not all students can overcome.
And while there’s research on handwritten versus computer-based note-taking — a 2014 study suggested that scribbling notes by hand helps with retention — the way cellphones might integrate into this equation remains a mystery.
Still, Nicholas Provenzano, who runs the popular education blog “The Nerdy Teacher” and is a technology consultant in education, considers himself to be fully on board with the idea.
“The extreme just assumes that if kids use their phones to write articles, it will all come back as text and emojis,” he says. But “their smart device isn’t just about listening to music, texting friends, and calling each other — it’s a computer.
“If they can hit [a paper] getting on the bus when they get home from their late volleyball game is a good thing.
Indeed, despite the occasional technological headache, teachers seem to be coming back. Compared to some of the ways teenagers are known to use their phones, a class paper seems a rather tame alternative.
And if nothing else, instructors can take solace in the fact that these days, while their students are pecking away on their phones during class, there’s at least some chance that they learn something.
As Shannon Wasilewski, head of the English department at Foxborough High School, says, “You know sometimes they text. But, hey, sometimes they do their job.