Smartphones, Students, and Teaching

Many students have smartphones – and they bring them to class. The challenge, then, is to think about how you, as an instructor, might leverage these phones to improve learning and communication in your course. (Alternately, you can ask / require that all cellphones be kept inside a bag or backpack for the duration of the class, if that is more fitting with the objectives of the course or a specific lesson.)

This is a useful piece with some general background and tips about cellphones in the college classroom.

If you’re interested in thinking specifically about how to use smartphones in your course, I’ve listed a few common options below. As always, bear in mind that some students may not have smartphones or may not have plans that allow for additional data usage.

1.  Mobile-friendly content so your students can review course concepts no matter where they are. According to an industry study, students with smartphones may study slightly more than those without said phones (although the benefit of said extra study time in unclear). At any rate, making your materials available in a format that is mobile-friendly will certainly help those students who do wish to study on breaks at work, in the gym, or while waiting in line for coffee. On the topic of mobile access, did you know that TCU has a Pearson LearningStudio mobile site? This is basically a mobile-friendly version of LearningStudio content (not an app – no special downloads are required). Now your students can review your LearningStudio site no matter where they are!

2.Texting students reminders or updates. Is the class meeting in the library today? Do students need to wear closed-toe shoes? Is a bluebook required for the exam? These sorts of quick reminders can save you and your students a lot of trouble. Text messages tend to be received and read fairly quickly, thereby having the the potential to avert crises-in-the-making.

The actual mechanics of an instructor-student text tree can be a little daunting, however. For those wanting to keep telephone numbers private (both on the instructor side and on the student side), ClassParrot is a program that allows instructors and students to send text message without having to share the actual telephone numbers. In addition to a polling feature, ClassParrot also logs all communications, providing a handy back-up in case there are any issues that would require one to revisit the text conversations. ClassParrot has a limited free option; it costs $9 per month for the ability to send/receive an unlimited number of messages. Here is a pretty balanced review of ClassParrot.

3. Helping students become better writers. This is an intriguing piece about one professor’s evolving thoughts about the place of cell phones in his class. As a professor in a writing-intensive class, he has moved from an outright ban of all cellphones to embracing the voice recording feature (present on most smartphones) to help students improve their written work. While this hasn’t worked for all students, many students have responded positively and benefited from this strategy.

4.  Improving communication with Google Voice. This is more something you, as the instructor, would do – and if you have a smartphone, this gets even easier and more convenient! The Pearson LearningStudio blog has a very informative post about using Google Voice to improve your presence and immediacy as an instructor. From the same people who bring you all the other Google tools, Google Voice offers free calls and text messages to the U.S. and Canada, a single number that rings you anywhere (you can set / schedule the number to which the calls will forward), an online voicemail inbox, and transcribed messages. The message transcription is a wonderful (albeit sometimes imperfect) feature, as it creates a written record of any messages, should you need to review any communications at a later date. Pairing the transcribed messages with the ability to view them on your smartphone (either via an app or by electing to have text messages sent to your phone) means that you can be made aware of student communications even if you are far from your office phone or in a setting where a phone call is simply not appropriate.

Note that you need not have a smartphone to use Google Voice  – you can capture many of the benefits of Google Voice just using your computer. However, having a smartphone means that your ability to receive messages on the go is greatly increased.

The price is right

Here are a few free items that might make your eLearning life a little easier.

1. From Enspire Learning, a free ebook on case studies for the medical and healthcare fields. These are snapshots of the custom ecourses Enspire has created for healthcare industry firms, but a clever instructor could adapt the problem-solving paradigm in order to make these scenarios applicable to a classroom setting. (Note that there’s also a free End-of-life Nursing scenario on their demo page.)

2. Mobile email can be associated with sloppy proofreading and short, brusque sentences. No more! Read about free text expansion options – including something super-easy for iOS5 users. Now you can compose your own shorthand for “please carefully review your paper for spelling, grammar, and citation errors” when you answer multiple student emails on the go.

3. Quick tech tip for Office 2010 users: did you know there’s a built-in screen capture feature? The screenshot tool is located on the Insert tab, and you have the option to snag your whole screen or just one open window. The selected image is then automatically pasted into your Office document and the image editing menus appear. Cool, huh? Talk about an easy way to get tables, charts, etc. into your documents or presentations!