The Issue: Bob is in class. He’s bored, and he wants to know the time, so he sneaks a peak at his phone. His teacher sees him and interrupts her lecture to remind him that phones are not allowed.
The teacher asks the class a question; Bob realizes he can look up the answer on his phone, but doesn’t want to get caught looking at it again. The teacher tells the class the answer which he instantly forgets. She writes some notes on the board, and tells the students that they should take notes as the facts will be on the test. Bob knows that he can get all these facts on his phone, but with a sigh, he rips a single loose leaf out of his notebook, and copies whatever she writes. At the end of class, he stuffs the paper into his backpack. Bob doesn’t do well on the test.
There are few situations in life outside educational environments where we are asked to memorize substantial quantities of information and then regurgitate it later. During the majority of our lives, we will be presented with problems which we will need to research, distill what we have learned, then try to provide an answer. Rarely will we be prohibited from trying to access information or use tools which can help us to research, record, compare, and communicate. Our students have a tool to do all this in their pockets, yet we prohibit them from looking at their phones.
Many schools have a conservative approach to phones: students are not allowed to use them during the school day. However, if you stand outside the front door of the school at 3pm as the students emerge, you will see that the first thing the students do as they leave the building is check their phones; most look for texts, some make phone calls. However, this is not the only time they use the cellphones. Teachers constantly spend time asking students to put their cellphones away, but many students still surreptitiously sneak glances at it from their pocket, under the desk, in the hallways, and in the dining room. And who can blame them: most adults in their lives are also constantly checking their phones. Smartphones are our watches, the sources of texts, our cameras, and a portal to the internet and social media.
What if students were not only allowed to use their smartphones in class, but were given assignments that encouraged them to use their smartphones to research, record, view, video, capture sound and still images, takes notes, and communicate? Here are some applications for Smartphones in the classroom:
- Use the cameras as scanners to document primary sources in a history class and then integrate these documents in a paper or presentation;
- Watch clips from documentaries, movies, for example, scenes from Macbeth as they simultaneously read the play;
- Access their notes from using a note organizer such as Evernote or Springpad;
- Clip, or bookmark articles from the Internet and send them to their note organizer;
- Video record labs in their science classroom to demonstrate their results and submit for assessment;
- Use the microphone to record interviews for English and history projects;
- Take pictures of everyday objects and label them (sending them as texts) to build vocabulary in a foreign language;
- Use simple or complex calculator apps;
- Wirelessly project (to an Apple TV connected to a projector) content from iPhones to share with the whole class;
- Access online calendars detailing assignments and homework;
- Write blogs, post comments to forums;
- Read articles;
- Use the camera and microphone to record lectures and other information in the class;
- Use the camera to scan QR codes for one-step access to websites and videos;
- Access and annotate maps;
- Listen to music (if you ever want students to stop chatting with each other in class, allow them to put on headphones and listen to music; they will instantly stop having distracting conversations with neighbors! Some teachers are wary of students wearing headphones not being able to hear instructions: a compromise is to allow the students to insert one earbud.)
Some of these applications may sound obvious, but they require careful design of assignments in providing the structure for students to collect data and material, evaluate and analyze it, then integrate it into something they produce.
Sometimes, it is evident that our students are not checking their email frequently enough to receive timely reminders from their teachers. What is more than evident, however, is that they are constantly checking their texts. Fortunately, text can be used as a tool to send out homework reminders, changes to class activities, assignment due dates, or really anything. One resource that allows teachers to send out group texts without revealing their personal phone number to students is Remind101. It is a web-based tool that can be managed from your desktop. Students enroll in a class or course by sending a text to a number provided by Remind101, enter an enrollment code (chosen by you), and they are enrolled in the class. Parents, clearly, can also be invited to enroll. Remind101 is also private: the text number is an anonymous number, and course members cannot send a text back to the teacher.
Beyond the Paperless Classroom by David Doherty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.