Smartphones as Learning Tools

Last Spring, we posted an article about using cell phones in the classroom. Nearly every student, staff and faculty member has one, and in the past years there’s been a push to harness the technology for educational enhancement. But now an even more advanced mobile technology is becoming ubiquitous–smartphones. There are now 91.4 million smartphones in the United States, and many students are the proud owners of these devices. In addition to standard cell phone features of calling and texting, smartphones make it easy to browse the web, play games, check the news, study for a test, and much more all thanks to different applications that can be installed on the phone.

With technology constantly advancing, it may be only a matter of time until cell phones are replaced completely by smartphones. It’s no wonder, considering possession of a smartphone is having knowledge & resources at your fingertips (literally). This brings to mind the idea of smartphones in the classroom. Want to get the latest on a current event? Open a news app. Need to spell check something? Use the dictionary on your phone. Looking for background information on a topic? Open Wikipedia for a quick review.

But the dilemma with smartphones in the classroom is similar to laptops in the classroom. How do we use the technology without distracting students from the class work? In a Campus Technology article published recently, this question is tackled. The authors give several tips on best practices for smartphones in the class, which will be highlighted after the jump:

  • Don’t like the idea of smartphones? Reconsider. Some may see smartphones simply as advanced toys or evil distraction devices. However, the fact is that app developers are coming out with thousands of education-centered apps on the App Store and Android Market, many of them costing little-to-nothing.
  • Take advantage of portability. Lugging around a heavy laptop to each class is a hassle. Why have students do so when the same technology is available on their smartphone? Of course, in many cases a laptop does have its benefits. For example, you wouldn’t want to write an essay on your phone. But for light tasks like reviewing reading, finding news articles and taking notes, a smartphone could be just the tool they need.
  • Smartphone as a study tool. As stated before, there are thousands of apps coming out of smartphone markets for educational purposes. One type of educational app that is gaining popularity is study tools. If you choose to study with your smartphone, you have many options. Apps like Quizlet and FlashCards++ allow you to create your own flashcards and review them on your phone. Evernote can help you record your notes (via photo, text, or audio recording) and search or review them later. To keep track of what and when you need to study, myHomework and gTasks will help you manage your time and create a list of to-dos. For a full list of apps Learning Technologies believes to be useful in education, visit the LT page on Apps for the iPad.
  • Using the smartphone for class engagement. Obviously, class activities where smartphones are required are not the best idea when many people are still using standard cell phones. Perhaps as an addition to class time, allow students with smartphones to carry out a task during short breaks in the lecture. Smartphones provide easy access to Twitter, a social media tool that is gaining popularity in classrooms. Some classes even allow students to tweet questions to professors during a lecture, ensuring student’s full understanding of the topic. Some classrooms have also reported using the GPS-enabled SCVNGR, where students actually visit places, check-in and complete tasks there.

According to the Campus Technology article, smartphones today “have the computing power of a mid-1990s personal computer”. For such a tiny device, that is a lot of power. It is time we accept and utilize smartphones in higher educations, because they won’t be disappearing any time soon.

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