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Digital Distractions

The inclusion of technology in the classroom has shown to be beneficial in moving education forward. However, there has been a growing concern about how problematic digital devices can be when used for other reasons besides classwork.

In a study conducted by Douglas K. Duncan, Angel R. Hoekstra, and Bethany R. Wilcox from the University of Colorado, an undisclosed large state university in the western United States was put through a series of tests to determine if digital devices, specifically cell phones and laptops, were the cause of lower test grades and student performance.

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Time to Catch Up: The “Technology” Policy

For Isaac Sweeney, an assistant professor of English at Richard Bland College in Virginia, a simple revision of his syllabus proved to illustrate an important change of direction for his classroom. The change from having two separate policies about cellphones and e-mail, to just having one “Technology” policy, showed an acceptance and honesty about how his classroom, similar to many classrooms around the country, needs to “catch up” to the present trend in education: technology as an educational tool in the classroom.

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sweeney talks about his firsthand experience letting students use their cellphones for class activities. Even though this may seem like blasphemy, the change in policy allows students to be empowered to use their cellphones as a tool for their own learning.

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Using Cell Phones in the Classroom

These days, nearly every college student owns a cell phone. In the classroom, cell phones are generally seen by the instructor as nothing more than a distraction. Step into any college classroom during a long lecture or in-class film, and chances are you’ll see a handful of students typing away and sending text messages to their friends. With this behavior becoming all too common, it is no doubt why professors despise the devices and are asking students to turn their cell phones off completely during class.

However, what students and instructors aren’t always realizing is the potential of cell phones in education. Students have access to very powerful devices, especially with the rising ownership of smartphones. An article published recently by Edudemic questions the next step of cell phones in education and offers the following interesting ways to harness the device’s power for effective use in education:

- Text Reminders: Since students generally check their cell phone more frequently than their email, the website Remind101 has come up with a way to reach students when they are away from their computer, but not their phone. The site allows instructors to create assignment reminders that are sent to students via text message. All the students have to do is register with the site and subscribe to the class’ reminders.

-Using the cell phone as a study tool: For students who want to study on-the-go, but don’t want to drag their heavy computer around there’s sites like StudyBoost. Once the student registers, they can create their own series of study questions. Then, using their phone, they can have the questions sent to them via text message. From there, the student answers the questions by replying to the StudyBoost number, and will instantly receive their results.

-Voting: Using Poll Everywhere, instructors can gather opinions and votes in their classroom. This tool also provides real time data, which is especially appealing to professors looking to save time.

-Accessing Twitter: Interestingly enough, Twitter is becoming increasingly present in the classroom. Obviously, smartphones have the ability to instantly access Twitter via apps or an internet browser. However, there are also easy ways to access Twitter with a basic phone! Users can tweet by registering their phone and sending a text message to their country’s short code. If the user isn’t able to send text messages, TweetCall is also an option. TweetCall is a free service that lets the user call a phone number, speak their tweets, and have them transcribed into text.

-Scavenger Hunt: Educational scavenger hunts are already a popular activity with cell phones in the classroom. There are many different programs and apps to run your scavenger hunt on, but the recommended program is SCVNGR. The program is compatible with both basic cell phones and smartphones, as many scavenger hunt apps are designed for smartphones with a GPS function.

ipadio: Podcasting from your Cell Phone

ipadio (pronounced eye-paid-ee-o) is a podcasting tool that lets the user call in from anywhere in the world to record a podcast, or in this case, a phonecast. Phonecasts you record are directly uploaded to your channel, or Phlog. You can share your phonecast, embed it, comment on it, convert it to text, or set a location for it using Google Maps. If you set up an account and make your phonecasts public, users can follow you and you can follow other Phlogs.

PodcastingWhat makes ipadio and phone podcasting so interesting is how the creation of the content is very simple, yet the finished phonecast can reach global audiences. While browsing the list of popular and recent Phlogs, one will notice the incredible variety of Phlog types and topics–online newspapers, personal/social, business/leadership, sports, entertainment, and of course, schools and education.

Phonecasts are used for a number of things in education, only a few include foreign language vocabulary, student assignments, and class blogs for parents. Although higher education doesn’t seem to have a large presence at the moment, ipadio and/or phonecasting in general is a tool worth getting acquainted with. If you have wanted to start podcasting, but just really weren’t sure how to start, phonecasting is a simple and easy way to begin.

If you would rather upload an mp3 file, for editing or quality purposes, that option is also available on ipadio. There is also an ipadio app available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Digital Devices Depriving Brain of Needed Downtime

For many people, every minute of time away from work and daily routine such as being stuck  in line at the checkout stand, waiting for the bus, or just simply working out in the gym is a time to pull out the iPod, cell phone, or other digital device and start checking on e-mail, text messages, or just simply play a quick game of tetris.

Recent advances in technology for such devices have turned smartphones in to full-fledged computers with high-speed internet connections which have made “the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive”.

However, scientists point out that an unintended side-effect of all this digital input is that people are now unable to process information that could help them to remember information or formulate new ideas.

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