August 20, 2015
By Mary Ellen McIntire
Students in Ronald A. Yaros’s Info 3.0 class at the University of Maryland at College Park this fall will use a smartphone app specifically designed for practically everything in the course: Writing blog posts, sending tweets, and shooting video interviews.
Mr. Yaros doesn’t allow laptop computers in his classroom but not because he doesn’t expect students to look at screens. Instead, he asks them to bring a tablet computer or use their smartphones to follow along with his interactive demonstrations during class, which he can beam to their devices using another app, called Nearpod. With a swipe of the finger on his iPad, the screens on his students’ devices change as well. In addition to slides, he pulls up work the students have done in the week since their last meeting, as well as asks open-ended questions, polls them, and shares PDFs on the small screen.
Keeping students constantly working with their devices is the best way to bring mobile technology into the classroom, he argues.
“That’s key for instructors, to keep it a little bit more engaging,” he says. “Otherwise, I would probably say: Don’t use it. Go back to the traditional way.”
By using the course app, students can complete assignments whenever it’s convenient for them, Mr. Yaros says. They can also receive text-message reminders when assignments are due.
Mr. Yaros is one of the professors paving the way for the use of mobile technologies in the classroom. Around the country, professors are looking to reach students not just on laptops but on the smartphones and tablets they carry throughout the day. Mobile technology is also making it easier for professors to flip their classrooms and to hold students accountable for taking in readings and videos outside of class.
Helen Crompton, an assistant professor of teaching and learning at Old Dominion University, says her students can scan a QR code with their phone to immediately call up a set of questions about their assignment and what topics they need help understanding when they enter her class.
One challenge Ms. Crompton has faced is that although personal use of smartphones is second nature to students, they often don’t understand how to adapt the technology for learning. She says there are many apps that they could, and should, use to support their learning.
“It’s a pedagogical game changer,” she says.