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Most educators have some policy regarding cellphone use in class. Often this policy is "no phones" or "I don't care."

I would like to take different approach. I would like to learn of ways to incorporate the use of cellphones in the learning experience of the students. As such my question is

How can cellphones be used in a class to the benefit of the learning of the students?

  • What's the difference between cell (smart) phone and tablet or laptop? – scaaahu Apr 29 '16 at 5:05
  • Cell phone and smartphone are nearly synonymous terms now. A tablet can or cannot have phone calling ability. Laptops cannot make phone calls except through the internet. Students may or may not bring their laptop to class but everybody brings their phone. – Darrin Thomas Apr 29 '16 at 5:08
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    @DarrinThomas I interpreted the comment to mean 'why do you specify phones when laptops and tablets serve a very similar purpose in class?' – Jessica B Apr 29 '16 at 6:35
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    Oh, well in my experience laptops and tablets are not as common in class where I teach. Therefore, I was not looking for ways to incorporate laptops and tablets. It would be nice to here of strategies for all forms of tech but I want to limit this discussion to cellphones. – Darrin Thomas Apr 29 '16 at 6:47
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I had a professor at my undergrad who would use an online service to create "mini-quizzes" throughout class; essentially, we would log into the service with our smartphones, he would place questions on his slides, and we would answer through the app/website. He could see the results live, and if enough people got something wrong he would go into more detail (this is very similar to the "iClickers" that some universities use).

I've seen some professors use Twitter as a means of enhancing the classroom - they would create a class account, and everyone would be expected to contribute by uploading photos, tweeting related news articles, and so on. I seem to recall this working best for classes in the natural sciences (biology, etc.) or fine arts (not that it couldn't be adapted for other fields, of course).

I also know of a professor at my undergrad who taught an interdisciplinary course that brought English majors, computer scientists, and a few others together to create a mobile application for a so-called "Poetry Walk" around the town. The group worked together to choose sites around town, create a piece of poetry associated with that site, and then build an app that would trigger a particular piece of poetry/spoken word based on your location.

Long story short - there's a lot of potential for mobile devices (I'm with scaaahu, if you're going to allow phones, why not allow tablets and laptops too?). It's really up to the instructor's imagination.


Based on O.R. Mapper's comment, I want to make a note that, for the foreseeable future, any activity in class that makes use of mobile devices should still not necessarily require students to have a mobile device. Simply put - this places students from less-fortunate (poorer) socioeconomic backgrounds at a major disadvantage, and it publicly reminds them of that.

The only exceptions I can think of are:

  1. A university such as my current one that requires all first-year students to have a laptop that meets at least certain specifications. In that case, asking students to bring their laptop is acceptable (though personally I think the requirement is a bit unfair, but that's my opinion).
  2. A course that requires the mobile device as a central piece of the course (i.e., the mobile app development course I mentioned earlier. Though development platforms - smartphones - were still provided by the instructor in that case).

Regardless - if having a mobile device is not a requirement for enrollment, as an instructor you have a responsibility to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate equally in the activity.

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    What did students who don't have a smartphone do in those classes? – O. R. Mapper Apr 29 '16 at 5:41
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    @O.R.Mapper: Usually laptop or tablet. I don't recall anyone not having some form of device - the 1st and 3rd courses I mentioned were CompSci, though. As for Twitter - I believe students were expected to use university/public computers at least once or twice throughout the semester. That said - for the larger classes (general chemistry, physics), I saw two options: (1) the university rented iClicker devices to students, or (2) the dept. handed out index cards with numbers at the beginning of the semester; we used those to answer multiple-choice questions on the slides (fairly ingenious IMO) – tonysdg Apr 29 '16 at 5:48
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    If you need devices for a class, it is good practice to have some available that students can unobtrusively pick up as they enter, so it doesn't become obvious that they don't have their own. – Jessica B Apr 29 '16 at 6:37
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    @JessicaB: While feasible, it strikes me as odd that you treat the fact that a student chooses not to buy or bring a device as something that is secret or maybe embarrasaing and thus would have to be worked around in an unobtrusive way. – O. R. Mapper Apr 29 '16 at 12:19
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    @O.R.Mapper Maybe your culture is different, but in mine it is not acceptable to make it obvious that a student doesn't have as much money as others. – Jessica B Apr 29 '16 at 12:47

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