Promoting the Use of Mobile Phones as an Education Tool in the College Classroom

Many of my colleagues are proud of enforcing a “no cell phone” policy in their college classrooms. Although I agree that students should have the courtesy to place their mobile phones in silent mode while in class, I disagree with the need for or utility of banning mobile phone use in college classrooms. In my opinion, a smarter approach is to embrace the technology and to utilize it as a learning support platform.

As of a year ago, according to a survey by Ball State University, nearly 100 percent of college students own mobile phones and almost 30 percent of these are owners of smartphones. As more students make the move to smartphones, how is utilizing this mini hand-held computer any different than allowing students to bring laptops into the classroom? (another somewhat controversial practice that I endorse)

Potentially Positive Uses of Mobile Phones in the Classroom

The purpose of this blog is to provide educators with a beginner’s list of resources to consider when developing their courses for the Web 2.0 era. As part of this era, embrace the use of mobile phones in the classroom. If you are already using personal response systems (clickers) in your classes, the move to mobile makes sense for both you and your students. Why require them to purchase an additional device when Poll Everywhere provides the same functionality via mobile phones?

There are many other potential uses of mobile phones in the classroom. Originally posted in 2008, this blog on Thinking Machine offers numerous positive suggestions for incorporating mobile phones into the classroom. As you read down the list, think of how much more engaged your students will be and how much more enhanced their learning experience will be once you embrace and utilize mobile technology in your class. Like it or not, edutainment is the buzzword in course delivery today. Students want to be engaged and entertained at the same time. Mobile technology makes this task easier.

My intention is to adopt as many of these as possible into my lecture format, including displaying live streaming Twitter hashtag discussions based on the lecture. Think about it – students have the opportunity to send questions and provide feedback live via Twitter. Although students have this same capability in the classroom currently (by raising their hand), providing them with the opportunity to submit questions via Twitter may assist those who are otherwise reticent to communicate publicly by providing them with a  means to express themselves. In addition, transcripts from daily hashtag conversations in the classroom can be posted and archived.

Supplementary Content Available Publicly

One of the main features of smartphones is the capability to view videos and listen to podcasts. Professors can supplement their class material with content provided via iTunes U or YouTubeEDU. Students can download videos, podcasts, lectures and other resources for viewing via mobile phone or computer. I’m a fan of using open source materials in my classes and think it to be the best option to assure a high-quality learning experience for the students.

iTunes U, initially a pilot project with six institutions (Brown, Duke, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Missouri and University of Wisconsin Madison) was made available to the public via the iTunes Store on 30 May 2007. Currently, over 600 universities and colleges have active iTunes U sites and are posting content (250,000+ lectures, videos, films and resources).

To learn more about what is available via iTunes U use the What’s On link and explore the content. An example of excellence in the use of iTunes U, in my opinion, is Standford University. Why aren’t you participating?

Here is the main portal for the content available on YouTubeEDU. A more complete listing of potential YouTube educational resources may be found on the site. Colleges and universities are highlighted at the bottom of the page. These websites contain some of the best (and worst) of the edutainment materials available today. Cull through them and select those of value to your students and your course learning goals.

Become a Lecturing Rock Star

If you are interested in creating your own content for reference or future use by your students, consider using available cloud-based technologies for lecture capture and indexing. The system by Tegrity is used by 400 or more educational institutions. From a professor’s viewpoint, the main benefit of Tegrity is its ease of use. From a student’s viewpoint, the benefits are numerous and include access to lectures 24/7 across a variety of platforms, indexed and searchable by keyword terms and with RSS notification when new materials for the class are posted.

Infrastructure Considerations

Key things to consider are the strength of signal for the various mobile phone providers in your classroom. The architecture on our campus and preponderance of concrete, serves as a barrier to access. This can be overcome as more students transition to smartphones by providing open access to wifi signal on campus (many universities use VPN access to wifi but there are some issues with setting up VPN access on mobile phones).

Adopt Now or Dial “L” for Luddite

The key is to embrace and utilize mobile technology to facilitate the learning process. Your students will appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to use their mobile phones in the classroom. Your teaching evaluations will improve as will their performance. Regardless of how you envision incorporating mobile phone use in your classroom, the time to start is now. Please keep us informed of your best practices and successes/failures in implementing mobile technology into the classroom. We are, after all, part of a mobile learning community.


2 thoughts on “Promoting the Use of Mobile Phones as an Education Tool in the College Classroom”

  1. Dr. White,

    In relation to the article, take a look at this YouTube video. I think you may find it interesting. “QR Codes” are huge in Japan right now and hold about 10% of the US Market. The codes have broken into advertisements already. I have studied a bit about these codes and think they can very well be the near “future” of learning and marketing.

    Thanks for all your articles, I try to keep up with them!

    -Stefanie Bello

  2. Hi Stefanie – great to hear from you! How’s life after UMass-Dartmouth?

    Thank you for the link on QR Codes. If you don’t mind, I’ll email you if I have any follow-up questions. Appreciatively, Steve

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