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April 3, 2018

12 Things students can do with their phones in class, other than texting

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

We have heard a lot about the negative effects of cell phones in the classroom.

Most teachers will agree that texting, social networking and using other online communication apps on their smartphones will interfere with college students’ learning. However, many teachers do not realise the potential of these powerful devices in education.

There aren’t sufficient computer labs for teachers to use whenever they want to plan a digital learning activity. The students are bringing smartphones to class every day so why not get them out in plain sight and use them for good and not evil?

I used technology in my room for many years and the best advice I could give is:

  • If you are just beginning to use technology, start small. Try 1 or 2 activities per session. Of course, not all learning can be done digitally so plan for a productive activity based on the learning objectives.
  • Remember that some students may know more about a particular tool than you do and they can be truly motivated by helping you and other students during the activity. Be humble: accept the fact that teachers can’t know everything!
  • Before you tell the students to whip out their phones, announce your true colors. I told my students that cell phones are used in many workplaces, but they must be used in a professional manner. When I saw a student texting, I would ask if the cell phone was being used in a professional manner, i.e. would they be doing this if they were at work?
  • Work around the fact that not every student has a cell phone by having students work in groups, collaborating and solving problems together.
  • Last but not least, teach your students to be critical of Internet content. Here are some questions they can use to assess if the information given on a website is reliable.

12 ideas to use phones to support student learning

Finding information

You may not like reading on the screen of your mobile device, but many students don’t mind at all.

  1. Is there a concept your students are struggling with? Of course they can always “Google it”, but you can recommend sites or apps where they can find further information. If there is a specific website you want the students to consult, it is easier and faster to post a link to the site on your college’s educational platform (e.g.: Omnivox) and tell students to find it there.
  2. Khan Academy is a free website and educational app (for Android or iOS) with information on anything from arts and humanities to science and economics. It provides tutorials and interactive exercises.
  3. Your students don’t know the meaning of a word. Tell them to use an online dictionary such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or the Oxford Dictionary.

Giving information

  1. You split your class into groups and give them a discussion question arising from the course material. It is now time for the plenary, ask one member of each team to use their phone to access Socrative and write a summary of the group’s response to the question. The various group responses appear on the screen for all to see. Students can get bored listening to each group representative. Using Socrative is time efficient and frees up time for the teacher to comment on the answers or complete with any missing information.
  2. Ask your students to give their opinion on a subject. Here are some interesting Profweb articles on the use of Twitter and NewsActivist for just that purpose.
  3. 6. A formative evaluation test can give the teacher information on the students’ learning. You will find ideas on how to use Formative in this Profweb article.

Using their different learning styles

Teachers have come to realise that students may have different learning styles. Incorporating various methods in your teaching may make some complex study material easier to understand for students. It could be a lot of work for one teacher to prepare various methods for each learning activity. That is why, over the course of a session, I tried to prepare at least one activity for each learning style which all of the students in the class tried even if it didn’t correspond to their preferred learning style.

  1. For auditory learners who understand information better when they hear it, have them listen to a video or pod cast. Don’t worry, the students probably have their earphones on them!
    • Ted Talks has posted around 2700 videos from experts on education, business, science, etc.
    • TED Ed, from the same people that offer Ted Talks, present educational videos that are 10 minutes long or less and often include supplemental material and quizzes on the videos.
    • Teacher Tube is an online community for professors to share instructional videos. Teachers can post videos for students to access.
  2. For kinaesthetic learners, who prefer to learn by doing.
    • Quizlet, is a web-based tool designed to help students get involved in the learning process by creating their own study material. They can then study with flashcards, games and quizzes.
    • Send your students on a photo rally. In class after a discussion on environmental issues and how to live a zero-waste lifestyle, I asked student to go around the school or their home and take photos of places where they identified problems of waste management. The students then presented their photos, analysed the problem and submitted possible solutions.
  3. For visual learners who respond to pictures, charts or graphs.
    • Get students to create a mind map that can be used for brainstorming, note taking or project planning as well as to visualize what they are learning. They can access Mindmeister on the web browser of their phone or download the app if they prefer. There is a free account option and a commercial one.
    • Visuwords, is a free online graphical dictionary and thesaurus that connects words and associated concepts.

Proof that they are doing their work

Did you know that the camera on the students’ smart phones could be used for other things than just snapping selfies?

  1. Classrooms haven’t gone paperless yet and there is always a student who has lost their copy. Thanks to their phone’s camera they can scan a copy belonging to one of their classmates.
  2. While you are at one end of the class, what are the students at the other end doing? Ask them to send you a photo of their group work. They can also send it to each member of the group. Students can focus on the group discussion rather than concentrating on copying everything in their notebook.

    Students in Hotel Management simulated holding a wedding at their hotel. Here is a photo of the results of one group’s brainstorm activity.

  3. Learning can extend beyond the walls of school or the confines of a class period. Nevertheless teachers must make sure the work is done.

    Students in Special Care Counselling met with a representative of the Alzheimer Society.

What if, instead of punitive policies and calling out students, we showed them that their personal devices can be used for learning? What if we taught them how to use their cell phones appropriately in the workplace?

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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