It Will Take More than a Cellphone Ban to Mitigate the Negative Effect of Digital Technology in Canadian Classrooms, says Researcher

Vedrana Vodopivec among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2024, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place June 12-21

Photo of Vedrana Vodopivec (Photo contributed)

Peel Region, ON – As the Ontario government gets set to crack down on cellphone use in schools this fall, an educational researcher is calling for a more targeted approach to mitigating the negative effect of digital devices on student learning that’s more inclusive, less open to interpretation, and provides room for frequent review.

“The Ministry of Education is aiming to assert more control over phones in the classroom, including when, how and for what they are used, and that’s a good start, but there’s a lot of grey area,” said Vedrana Vodopivec, who recently earned her Master’s of Education at Nipissing University and serves as an occasional secondary teacher with the Peel District School Board.

After exploring more than 30 studies on the use of technology in the classroom — including smartphones, tablets and computers — Vodopivec found that students who are unable to self-regulate and use digital technology for study-related purposes become easily distracted by their devices. This negatively impacts their learning and takes away from valuable classroom instruction time, she said.

“We definitely need to make some changes and develop a better understanding of how technology is used in the classroom,” she said. “But it will take much more than simply limiting access to cellphones.”

Vodopivec will share her research into the negative effects of digital technology in the classroom as a featured speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2024), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place June 12 to 21 in Montreal.

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2024 — themed “Sustaining shared futures” — serves as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 8,000 scholars, graduate students and practitioners expected to participate, the event focuses on what must be done to bring forth solutions for today and sustain the systems of tomorrow, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just society.

Multiple findings suggest that it can take students a considerable amount of time to refocus on learning once they have been distracted by their digital devices, indicating that it’s important to control their use, Vodopivec explained. At the same time, technology is now so entrenched in learning and everyday life, many students depend on devices, making it difficult to enforce an all-out ban.

“Studies suggest that prior to using digital technology in class, and instructing students to use their devices, we should carefully examine if it’s necessary and beneficial for learning,” she said.

At Congress 2024, Vodopivec will share recommendations from her findings, including the need to better evaluate the impact of school board bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, examine how other parts of the world are using technology to enhance learning, and provide better professional development to support teachers on how to use technology responsibly in the classroom.

“With the introduction of BYOD policies, we accomplished a lot, but we also lost a lot,” said Vodopivec. “It can be challenging for educators — especially university professors who teach large groups of students — to control how digital devices are used in class.  In many cases, students must rely on their discretion and good judgment when using their devices and this can be a problem for some of them. “

Based on her research, Vodopivec recommends a collaborative approach to improving student learning that involves input from students, parents, teachers, administrators and superintendents, clearly outlines a timeline for follow up on implementation of any new strategies to control devices, and provides ongoing technology training for educators.

“Moving forward, it will be extremely important to pay attention to how effectively the new Ontario guidelines are followed and to keep lines of communication open so that we can measure the effectiveness of proposed changes,” she added.

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with McGill University, Congress 2024 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, University Affairs, Sage, and The Conversation Canada.

Registration – which includes 140+ keynote and open Congress sessions, with a virtual attendance option for many presentations – is $30. Visit to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public.


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