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Back-to-School Apps for Instructors and Students

In the spirit of back-to-school season, onlinecolleges.net recently published lists of recommended smartphone apps for students and instructors. We’ve decided to share a few of their favorites–as well as some of ours–with you here:

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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:

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“Think m.college.edu, Not iCollege”

An article published earlier last week by the Chronicle of Higher Education discussed colleges focusing less on mobile apps for their institutions and more on mobile sites. There are so many different kinds of smartphones on the market (Blackberry, Apple, Microsoft, Google), and all run on their own apps. The more smartphone users colleges want to reach, the more kinds of apps need to be created for the different devices. This costs time, money, and requires constant updates as technology quickly evolves.

So, rather than creating mobile apps, colleges are leaning towards the idea of creating mobile websites for themselves. Mobile websites are simplified versions of sites specially made for viewing on a mobile device’s web browser. Although they aren’t as quickly accessible as mobile apps, one mobile site will run on any smartphone with internet access and a web browser.

Currently, the University of Washington has both iPhone and Blackberry mobile apps, as well as a mobile website: m.uw.edu.

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.