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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.

Social Media Class Skypes with Internet Celebs

At the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, students enrolled in the course Social Media Optimization & the New Web learn and become “experts” on web applications such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. They stay up-to-date on the latest trends on the Internet by reading and thinking critically about the industry and reporting on the changes that are occurring.

An interesting part of the class is that students get to Skype with several industry leaders:

Craig Newmark – founder of Craigslist
David Meerman Scott – author of the New Rules of Marketing & PR
Guy Kawasaki – author of The Art of the Start
Zadi Diaz – host of Epic Fu
John Batelle – founder of Wired

Find out more at Inside Higher Ed: Social Media Class Skypes with Internet Celebs

Using Backchannels in the Classroom

A backchannel is the use of networked computers to maintain several side-conversations while the main conversation is occurring concurrently. In higher education, a model of this would be an instructor lecturing about a topic with students collaborating in small groups at the same time. The Twitter Experiment at UT Dallas is an example of conducting a backchannel through the use of mobile technology.

This post at the Teaching with Classroom Response Systems blog  outlines nine possible uses of backchannels in education as well as several examples of backchannel use at other universities. Check out the page at: http://derekbruff.com/teachingwithcrs/?p=472

Social Networking and Grades

According to a study done by student researchers at the University of New Hampshire, there is no correlation between the amount of time spent on social networking and the grades that students received. The study defined people with light social media usage as using social media for less than 31 minutes per day and heavy users were defined as having more than an hour use per day. Social media was defined as Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Check out the study at http://www.unh.edu/news/docs/UNHsocialmedia.pdf

Reflections on Teaching with Social Media

In the Chronicle of Higher Education (full article), Brian Croxall shares his experiences with using social media tools in his classes:


Did Twitter help establish a social sixth sense for my classes? I believe it did for the one where everyone tweeted on a daily basis. We suddenly knew about one another’s lives outside of class and that enabled conversations to happen in class more easily than they otherwise would have. The students also learned something about creating online personas that at times differed in significant ways from their real personas. While there’s certainly a fine line between teacher and student relationships, we made this subject a portion of our class discussions and found it useful. In the second and third classes, I got less of a sense of a classroom shift, and I believe that this was due to less overall buy-in to the tool.


I tend to use a PBworks wiki as my LMS of choice. But as I have mentioned previously I not only post syllabi and assignments on the wiki, but I have students use it as well, with a Jason’s wiki notes assignment. I’ve used this assignment for four semesters in a row, and while it takes a little bit for the students to understand both the idea of collaborative note taking and the wiki itself, it’s probably the best thing that I do for getting my students to understand the material that we cover in class. Even the students like the assignment–especially when it’s exam time. What I like about using the wiki this way is that it makes use of a wiki’s natural advantages. I’ve not had to change my approach to using it much for the last three semesters, and I don’t think that I will in the future.

Google Wave

Like Kathleen, we were going to use Wave as a way of taking collaborative notes. But where I differed from her approach was that I had the students use the wiki for the first half of the semester for these notes; we then transitioned to Wave. The point of doing this was to allow the students to evaluate two different media for collaborative document writing. But looking back, I think that it was a bad move. When it came time to switch, the students understood the wiki and were working well within it. Wave was similar in many ways, but different in enough ways that it was as if they had to learn the assignment again from the beginning. The result was a sort of tool fatigue. My take away from this experiment was to pick one tool for an assignment and stick to it. I’ll use Wave again in the future, I’m sure, but I believe I’ll use it like Kathleen and just start with it from the beginning so we can iron out the problems. This will be easier now that Wave account creation is no longer by-invite only.


We here at ProfHacker are big fans of Zotero, the Firefox plugin for collecting, managing, citing, and sharing research. This semester I decided to have one of my classes do an annotated group bibliography in Zotero. I had two reasons for giving the students this assignment. First, I wanted them to learn to use what I consider to be a tool that could be useful in classes outside of my own. Second, I wanted the students to benefit from one another’s bibliographies when it came time to writing final papers.

And so on…

I’ve most learned from a semester with heavy social media use:

  1. Be ready for problems. Even if you’ve never had any yourself, the number of students and of students’ computers (whether personal or in a lab) will insure that you have some.
  2. Be conscious of tool fatigue. The classroom should be a place where lots of learning takes place and where the patterns of learning can be shifted in interesting ways. Just don’t overdo it.
  3. In the end, I still think it is worth it.

Read the full article at The Chronicle of Higher Education.