Using Smartphones in the College Classroom

Using Smartphones in the College Classroom

Dani V. McMay (State University of New York at Fredonia, USA) and Jennifer L. Dyck (State University of New York at Fredonia, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch049


As technology has advanced, cellphones have become smartphones, and ownership of smartphones by college students has become the norm. Smartphones are closer to mini computers that also make phone calls than cellphones with PDA (personal digital assistant) features. In addition to specialized apps that have been developed for use in the college classroom, activities that make use of the smartphone's immediate access to resources on the internet have been developed. The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the most recent research on how smartphones have increasingly come to be included in the college classroom, including student and teacher perceptions of the value of using this technology for real time feedback during a lecture session. Future directions include the need for much more focus on best practices and a better connection between merely incorporating the technology and improving learning outcomes.
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Some of the earliest research that examined the potential impact technology could have on learning outcomes and motivation to learn was done by Dr. Lorna Uden at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom (Dai & Uden, 2008; Uden, 2007; Uden & Brandt, 2000). Using technology in the classroom was shown to increase student motivation and engagement. Smartphones represent the evolution of the mobile telephone into a mini computer that can be carried anywhere, which was quite different from simply incorporating technology into course curriculum. A recent overview of this progression (Watts, 2012) indicates that in a period of less than 10 years, individual technological hardware has been incorporated into the mobile phone, often making those original devices unnecessary (e.g., fax machine, a separate digital camera). Smartphones now include the ability to email (creating the new term ‘snail mail’ as it reduced the need to use the postal service), take photos, create videos, play music, play video games, and access webpages on the internet. The ability to accomplish all of these things in one device has made this technology a new resource that can be incorporated into the college classroom. Activities for inside the classroom and assignments to be completed outside of the classroom have been incorporated into college curriculum with varying degrees of success. An early researcher on the way mobile phones and podcasting could be used to improve learning outcomes was Dr. Dani McKinney at State University of New York – Fredonia (McKinney, Dyck & Luber, 2009). This work indicated that students could learn from podcasts just as well as when attending a live lecture, provided the students listened carefully and took notes over the material in the same way they would during the live class session.

Since this early research, a couple of key researchers have published interesting studies that indicate the best conditions for using mobile technology and smartphones in the classroom. One researcher is Dr. Susanne Voelkle at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Her work has focused on specific classroom exercises that can help both students and instructors make formative assessments of learning (Voelkle, 2013; Voelkle & Bennett, 2014). Another researcher that is doing cutting edge work on using smartphones in the classroom is Dr. Patient Rambe and his colleagues at the University of the Free State in South Africa (Rambe & Bere, 2013a,b; Rambe & Nel, 2013). His research focuses on using instant messaging in the classroom to increase student engagement. The purpose of this chapter is to give an overview of some current trends in incorporating this new technology into the college curriculum, and focuses mainly on the most recent research (i.e., 2011-2014) in an effort to give a more focused snapshot of the current state of this topic.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mobile Phone: A general term used for cellular phones, both with and without internet capabilities.

Smartphone: A cellular phone that also contains internet capabilities; applications can be download and used in the same way computer applications are used.

E-Textbook: A textbook that is accessible entirely online via a web browser.

Learning Outcomes: Specific identifiers an instructor sets up before the class starts that indicate what student’s should be learning during the course.

QR-Code: Quick Response Codes are bar codes that can be read by a smartphone’s camera and will send a URL to the smartphone’s web browser.

Learning Management System (LMS): A software application that is used to make assignments, handouts, and grades available to students via a web browser.

Social media: A way for creating virtual communities and interactions through the internet. People use social media to comment on their activities, to make recommendations for restaurants, to send messages to friend, etc.

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