Mobile Tools

Assignment: Evaluate a selected web-enabled mobile tool (genre or specific device) and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into post-secondary education. (View original blog post here:

Smartphones in College Classrooms

I got my very first smartphone while in graduate school pursuing my first master’s degree in 2009. The cell phone prior to that was old and very basic. I could text, call, and while technically it did take pictures, it was a feature I never used due to the poor image quality and the difficulty of getting them off the phone. My iPhone completely changed my academic life (as well as my personal and work life, but that’s another topic). I was able to access materials and contribute to discussions in Blackboard anywhere and with any spare minute I found. I could look up articles for research papers while on the go. I didn’t have to schedule such large blocks of dedicated time for class work because I could fit some of the smaller bits into my downtime throughout the day. I no longer obsessively checked my planner because I knew my phone calendar would send me timely reminders to keep me on track. My back thanked me because I was able to carry fewer things around, such as print readings and texts, my planner, and my laptop. I could quickly communicate with my classmates in our unofficial Facebook group.

Since my program was delivered entirely online synchronously, I did not need to use my smart phone for back channeling, looking things up to clarify lecture points, or for taking notes or recording lectures. I was already on my computer listening to real-time lectures and no one was monitoring my activities, so I was free to browse the internet for additional information, utilize private and classroom chat for back channeling, type notes into Word, and our lectures were automatically recorded. However, because I so heavily relied on these activities and tools, I am confident that I would have benefited from using my smartphone to engage in these activities had my program been in person. Other students seem to have the same idea. According to an infographic created by, 82% of college students with a smart phone use it for school-related tasks (n.d.).

While looking for online articles and blog entries on the subject of smart phone use in college classrooms, I discovered that there is great disagreement between instructors about whether there is a place for smart phones in the classroom. Some feel that they distract from learning and ban them from the classroom (Robert Birt and Jude Asike in Shebazz, 2012; Rick Diguette in Diguette, n.d.). Others embrace the technology and either guide students in appropriate use or incorporate the use of smartphones into class activities (Tonja Deegan in Lingholm, 2010; Roger McHaney in Communications and Marketing, 2011; Ada Vilageliu-Diaz in Shabazz, 2012).

I tend to side with the latter group. Establishing guidelines and expectations at the beginning of the semester seems a logical path (Frydenberg, et al., 2012). I also like the idea of designating portions of a class period as “phones away” or “phones ok” depending on the task at hand or requiring phones to remain on top of desks rather than in laps (Frydenberg, et al., 2012) if texting and other inappropriate use is a concern. I feel that college students are adults who are paying to attend your class. So long as the use of a smartphone does not distract others from learning, I find it difficult to argue that students should not be able to use their technology when and how they see fit. There are many legitimate reasons for a student to use their smart phone in class, including taking notes, recording the lecture, taking pictures of PowerPoint slides, texting classmates with questions or to share resources, looking a concept up online, and more. Rather than banning what can be an incredible tool, I feel that time and energy is better used coaching students on how to effectively use their phones to enrich their classroom experience. Learning to use technology for productivity and learning is a valuable life skill.

In addition to ways students can independently use their phones, there is also real value in intentionally including the use of smart phones in class activities. A smartphone is truly a portable internet-enabled computer with a scanner, camera, microphone, and telephone. It is a tool that facilitates communication, collaboration, content creation, and content sharing — things we as instructors value and promote in our classrooms. (For 80 specific uses of smartphones in the classroom, refer to Hardison (2013a) and Hardison (2013b).)

In order to incorporate smartphones into in-class activities, you need to be sure that your students have one. Luckily, according to Pew Research Center, 79% of Americans 18-24 have a smartphone of some kind (Pew Internet, 2013). Survey your students to see what technology they have and pair or group them up so that each group has a phone to work with on the activity.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from Frydenberg, Ceccucci, and Sendall (2012): “Let’s get one thing straight. Smartphones are a permanent feature of college classrooms, whether you like it or not.” Students love their smartphones and use them in all areas of life, including for school (LeMaire, n.d.). Whether you assign activities using smartphones or just allow students to use them to augment their own classroom experience, let’s encourage effective, productive use of smartphones instead of fighting a losing battle.


Communications and Marketing. (2011, Oct. 6). Keeping up with the tech-savvy: Professor’s new book looks at how smartphones, tablet computers reshaping learning and teaching. Retrieved from:

Diguette, R. (n.d., circa 2012). Untitled. In M. Downey (2012, Aug. 10), A college professor’s rule: Turn off that cell phone and learn. Retrieved from:

Frydenberg, M., Ceccucci, W., & Sendall P. (2012, Jan. 31). Smartphones: Teaching tool or brain candy? Retrieved from:

Lemaire, M. (n.d., circa 2012). The mobile lives of college students. Retrieved from:

Lingholm, D. (2010, Oct. 11). Smartphones as teaching tools. Retrieved from: (n.d., circa 2012). Mobile lives of college students. In K. Lepi (2012, Dec. 4), The 12 most popular ways college students use smartphones. Retrieved from:

Pew Internet. (2013, June 5). Smartphone ownership 2013. Retrieved from:

Shabazz, R. (2012, Oct. 11). Students, professors embrace smartphones as classroom tools. Retrieved from:


In-class Uses:

Hardison, J. (2013a, Jan. 7). Part 1: 44 smart ways to use smartphones in class. Retrieved from:

Hardison, J. (2013b, Jan. 21). Part 2: 36 smart ways to use smartphones in class. Retrieved from:

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