9 Uses for Smartphones in the Classroom

In Part 2 of this discussion, we offer some productive ways that student cellphones are currently being used in classrooms.

by / January 2, 2017

In the first part of this discussion, we reviewed schools’ ongoing classroom bans on students’ cellphones — or more accurately smartphones. We suggested it’s time for teachers to adopt ways to put students’ smartphones to productive classroom use after recognizing the eventual futility of such bans, and how educators are overlooking the computing power of these devices. And though there are many schools and teachers that don’t allow classroom smartphones, there are a growing number who have established the necessary ground rules for their use and made smartphones an integral part of their classrooms. Below is an introductory list of some ways these teachers are leveraging their students’ smartphones for good.

Classroom Uses for Student Smartphones

  1. Research: Using smartphones for on-the-fly research during class is a start. But a good next step is having students gather pertinent information and then learn ways to analyze the validity of their sources.
  2. Twitter: Setting up a dedicated Twitter feed where teachers post assignments and due dates is a good first step in using this app with students. Then they can move on to share newsfeeds or track hashtags on a particular topic as a class project to examine and discuss contrasting viewpoints. And tracking government Twitter feeds, including those of our incoming tweeting president, can be used for a variety of current event and research purposes.
  3. Social media: The social media landscape is dynamic, and students will regularly embrace new apps. So teachers should examine the instructional and communication possibilities of these apps and consider their potential to engage students and to augment learning in new ways.   
  4. Text messaging: In addition to posting class assignments on a website or tweeting them, teachers can also simply send an assignment text message to their students. “Remember, history quiz this Friday!” is an easy reminder, and one students are unlikely to miss.  
  5. Calendars: Helping students set up and use a calendar app on their phones is a good lesson in time management for their class assignments and test preparations.
  6. Discussion forums: Rather than going on the open Internet, there are many resources available for teachers to set up their own online class discussion forums. This is a great way to develop students’ skills in writing for an audience, and presenting and defending their opinions. And it also gives new opportunities for students to be heard, particularly those who are less likely to participate in classroom discussions.
  7. Student response systems: Clicker systems became popular in schools as a way to quickly gather student input — perhaps at the end of class to determine students’ levels of understanding on a particular topic, or as a way to conduct class opinion polls. With a free or inexpensive online tool like Poll Everywhere, students’ phones can easily be used to replace expensive school-owned clickers.  
  8. Photos and videos: The photo and video capabilities of smartphones should not be overlooked. Class assignments can be augmented in interesting ways by encouraging students to add photos or video content to their work, and then posting it to a class repository on such sites as Vimeo or YouTube. It’s also important to train students to use video editing tools so their photo or video content is scripted, arranged and aesthetically interesting.
  9. Audio recording: The voice memo app on smartphones is another tool that can be leveraged in classrooms. Students may want to use it to record lectures or to flesh out their assignments by adding in audio elements. And doing an oral history assignment with a smartphone is another possible use. But again, teaching students to edit their audio work, just as they do their written assignments, is also important.

This is certainly only a starter list for smartphones in classrooms. Many teachers and students are already using them in other, untold interesting ways. But that’s the point: Smartphones are compelling tools in the hands of students and savvy educators, and they will only become more so over time. And using them in classrooms presents new opportunities for teachers and students to work together on leveraging these devices. Because, let’s face it, resistance is futile.         

Kipp Bentley Contributing Writer

Kipp Bentley is a senior fellow with the Center for Digital Education. He has been a classroom teacher, librarian and ed tech director and currently consults, writes and weaves in Santa Fe, N.M.

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