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27th November 2015 at 00:00
Smartphones trump dull textbooks for quick access to information, and quizzes, apps and videos can help enrich learning further – if you can keep pupils on task

Students are not only adept at using online devices – these have also become an integral part of their daily existence.

As such, teachers have to repeatedly remind themselves that what worked for them at school might no longer be the case.

Most classrooms now have access to at least one device that allows users to connect to the internet, access test-taking software, look up information, compose text on cloud-based documents and quickly communicate with experts around the world, often in real time. That device is in the pockets of the students: the mobile phone.

But despite the benefits offered by mobile devices, many teachers remain reluctant to incorporate the technology into classroom learning. Instead, students are asked to slog through dull textbooks for answers they could easily find in seconds with a smartphone.

What follows, then, are our tips for using mobile devices effectively in the classroom.

Ken Halla (@kenhalla) has taught for 25 years and Frank Franz (@cpnthrz) teaches social studies at James Madison High School, both in Virginia in the US. This article is adapted from Deeper Learning Through Technology: using the cloud to individualize instruction, by Ken Halla

What teachers should do

Consider your class goals. Who should be doing more work in the classroom – the student or the teacher? When students are all working on their devices, either individually or in groups, there is no front-of-the-room focus. In this scenario, students are responsible for their own learning.

Teachers can encourage pupils to remain on task by walking around the room, engaging students by asking and fielding questions, and providing constant formative assessment.

How to manage behaviour

Teachers will know that if a student is laughing at his or her screen, they will probably not be on task. Walking over to the student’s desk and hovering nearby usually helps to diminish this infraction without you having to say a word.

Also, tell students to keep their smartphones on their desks. They will be less inclined to stray off task if the devices are easily visible.

1 Using videos

Videos such as flipped lectures, which are five- to 15-minute long lessons, can give context to what is being done in the classroom.

Students watch them in their own time and come to class with questions, or prepared to take a basic quiz on the material. After this, higher-level assignments can be done in school with the assistance of the teacher. For example, students can watch a lecture on a maths principle at home, then complete problems on it in the classroom.

2 Sharing work

Google Drive, which is a free suite of Microsoft Office-like products that are accessible with a Gmail account, resides in the cloud so you can access documents on any internet-connected device. This makes it easy for students to take notes and work on projects in class, then access them at any time outside school.

3 Assessing knowledge

Websites and apps such as Poll Everywhere, Kahoot! and Socrative are useful for this purpose. Teachers load a multiple-choice question on to each respective site and students select the correct response via their phones. After every student has answered, the teacher reveals the correct answer.

A twist on this technique is to discuss the options before the teacher shares the correct answer. One way to approach this is to ask students to defend their choices, before revealing which one was right.

4 Peer instruction

For peer instruction, students respond to the question presented, then the instructor asks them to find someone who submitted a different answer and try to convince them to change their mind.

Once this three- to five-minute discussion is over, the instructor asks students to respond again via their phones. The teacher then reveals the answer to the class and asks for a volunteer or two to describe why it’s correct.

5 Looking up information

Our classes usually start with a brief discussion of current events. Sometimes students ask questions to which I don’t know the answer. When that happens, I just ask them to look it up on their phone.

Recently, our class discussed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ run and a student asked how old he was. I didn’t know, so I asked a pupil to find out (the answer is 74).

Teachers might know a lot but we don’t know everything. There’s nothing wrong with showing students what you do when you don’t know something: you look it up.

Occasionally, I will ask a couple of students to find information and then I’ll question them on their source. This in itself is a mini lesson on research skills.

6 Homework reminders allows teachers to text students with reminders preset to a specific time. Educators can also attach documents and links. Since students might rarely check their emails, this free app, which can be used on both a smartphone and a computer, allows teachers to reach students where they spend the most time: on their phones.

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