Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mobile Devices in the Classroom

This blog post was developed by the ITD Team (Andrea Milligan, David Houle, Lance Eaton and Pat Lavoie).

Though we should be deliberate in how we embrace mobile technology, what are some of the ways in which it can enhance our classroom experiences and student learning? In mid-January, the Instructional Technology and Design team facilitated a conversation with faculty on this topic during a Mobile Devices in the Classroom workshop. Potential benefits and challenges were explored along with a discussion around potential useful classroom applications.

When it comes to mobile devices in the classroom, it is clear that they can provide some great advantages to making it a more rewarding experience.  Mobile devices can be used to
  • Provide students with instant access to the world in the classroom. This is great for looking up words that they are unfamiliar with, translating words they do not know, incorporating data into the discussion, doing research on a topic being discussed in class and communicating with experts.
  • Provide students with opportunities to engage, interact, and create in a classroom environment and beyond that may not have been previously possible.  Students can create presentations on the fly, develop videos encapsulating a conceptual process, manipulate interactive course materials, or work together on writing something within the class without hovering over each others' shoulders.
However, there are definitely challenges to consider and overcome: 
  • Access to mobile devices:  Not every student will have access to a mobile device.  One way of overcoming this is having students work in groups around an activity that uses a mobile device.  Another way is to plan ahead and give students choices about doing the work in class or on their own in the computer labs or at home.
  • Cost of apps:  If you are going to be using various mobile tools, be careful about requiring students to purchase apps.  While students may be able to get financial aid for books, money for apps is likely to come out of their own pocket.  An alternative to this is to focus on free apps (of which there are plenty) or work with web-based free programs (e.g. Poll Everywhere).
  • Cost of data plans:  Be careful about how much demand you put on the students' mobile devices in terms of the data they need to use.  Some students pay per individual text or have limited texting plans and others may have smart phones but with limited data plans.  A good approach to this would be to remind students that they can log onto the school's Wi-Fi to avoid using their own data plans (texting charges would still apply).
  • Platform plurality:  There are many different platforms when it comes to mobile devices--it is not just Android, Apple, & Windows, but we are also dealing with smart phones, tablets, and laptops.  When you are looking to employ mobile devices in the classroom, it is important to find strategies that are platform agnostic in that they can be used on all platforms.  This might require some additional research to provide options for people on different platforms.  A tool like EdShelf allows you to seach for tools by platform.  Or, when trying to find particular apps, look beyond the platform-specific app store as many apps are available on multiple platforms.
  • Technical support:  Students are going to have technical issues with their devices and the software employed.  Be sure to have a reference guide for the different types of support (e.g. the school's Helpdesk, the app's support link, etc). 
  • Physical tech support:  It is important to think about battery life and access to power sources.  Some mobile devices will not last more than 3-4 hours of continued use.  Students will need to be aware of where the power outlets are.  You may need to consider different seating accomodations during a project to allow for access to power outlets.  You might also want to consider providing students with advance notice, if possible, of a mobile activity so they can come to class with their devices charged.
  • Printing support:  Be sure to direct students to this link so they know that mobile printing has now been enabled for certain mobile devices in certain locations on NSCC's campuses.  This would come in handy, particularly, for students using their mobile devices to write papers.
  • Projection support:  Depending on the device, you may or may not be able to hook it up to classroom projector (if in a smart classroom).  Additional cables might be needed to hook up your mobile device to the projector so you will want to think about this ahead of time and look at the nature of the classroom to determine what you should have. 
  • Instructional support:  Students' do not intuitively know what to do with the mobile devices for instructional purposes and they may not full understand what is expected of them in using a mobile device inside or outside of class.  As an instructor, you will want to provide clear guidelines about how students will be using the mobile devices and the means by which they can achieve "success" when using them in your course. 
  • Familiarity:  Some students are likely to be neophytes to the particular app or usage of technology that you are employing for class.  A good way to help students avoid feeling overwhelmed by mobile device use is to give them some time to play with the particular tool/app/device and gain some familiarity with it.  Additionally, you might create a low-stakes assignment for them to do so they will gain some confidence with the device.
  • Appropriate usage:  As tools, mobile devices can do wonderful things, but students are likely to be easily distracted by them so it is important to prepare for such challenges within the class.  Several recommendations for making mobile devices useful but not a distraction would include:
    • Clear guidelines and expectations about proper usage added into the syllabus and/or covered in class.
    • Direct work on mobile devices towards a particular goal or project (that is, require a "finished product" as proof of their usage).
    • Identify a particular window of time in which they can use the device and provide them with a challenge to accomplish in that limited time.
Resources:  Here are some great resources to consider for different ways of using mobile devices for the purposes of learning. 

  • Evernote - "Makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web."
  • Skitch - "Get your point across with fewer words using annotation, shapes and sketches".
  • Web Clipper - "From interests to research, save anything you see online—including text, links and images—into your Evernote account with a single click." 
  • Evernote Peek - "Turn your notes, audio and image in Evernote into study materials with Evernote Peek." 
  • EduCreations - "Teach what you know. Learn what you don't." 
  • Prezi - "A presentation tool that helps you organize and share your ideas."
  • Google+ - "Share the right things with the right people."
  • Google Drive - "Do more than just store your files. Share files with exactly who you want and edit them together, from any device."
  • DropBox - "A service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily."
  • Trello - "A collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process." 
  • inClass - "Organize your schedule.  Share your notes."
For More
You can also check out our Prezi presentation:

We would love to hear from you.  Are you using mobile devices in the classroom?  If so, how are you using them?  What benefits or challenges do you see around using mobile devices in the classroom?  What apps are you or your students using?