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Mobile Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Although you may want to banish students who shop on their laptops, send messages on their mobile phones, and engage in other electronic pastimes during class, banning the devices may not be the best solution.



The posting below looks at several aspects of the use of mobil devices in the classroom.  It is from Chapter 33, Mobil Learning in the book, Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis. Published by Josey-Bass A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 [].  Copyright 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: An Examination of the Tenured Mind (review)


Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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\Mobile Learning


Mobile technologies offer a way to create dynamic, interactive learning environments inside and outside the classroom.  The current generation of wireless computing and portable communication devices includes laptops.tablets, PDAs (personal digital assistants), mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, iPods, iPhones, small electronic book readers and various multiple-function devices.

Mobile devices can be used to facilitate quick feedback or reinforcement; deliver interactive demonstrations and quizzes; provided immersive experiences (for example, foreign languages); enrich learning outside the classroom (for example, data collection in the field); and share information (for example, syllabi, assignments, and calendars).  of course, these devices also interfere with learning when students shop online, send e-mail, or play games during class. Some students may even feel sanguine about missing class if they can view the webcast at their convenience.

                General Strategies

Decide how you feel about students using mobile devices in your classroom.

Although you may want to banish students who shop on their laptops, send messages on their mobile phones, and engage in other electronic pastimes during class, banning the devices may not be the best solution. You can't force students to pay attention if they don't want to. And even if you forbid all electronic gadgets, students will still daydream, whisper, and pass notes. Banning mobile devices may also pose communication problems during emergencies. Nonetheless, some faculty prohibit laptops in the classroom and feel that students are more engaged and involved as a result. Others use software that allows them to see which programs are running on students' laptops, to block specific applications, and to disable specific laptops. Still other faculty ask students who bring laptops to sit where their screens can be observed. (sources: Fried, 2008; Young, 2006)

If you permit mobile devices, establish rules of etiquette.

Consider asking students at the beginning of the term to set norms for what constitutes respectful classroom use of mobile devices. Or state your policies on you syllabus, and reefer to those policies on the first day of class. The following guidelines are adapted from Bloom (2007), Hampton, Martinez, and Smith (2004), Hembrooke and Gay (2003), Lang (2001), Rubinstein, Meyer, and Evans (2001), and discussions on a UC Berkeley listserv:

* Emphasize that students' use of electronic devices for purposes not relevant to the course must be kept to an absolute minimum.

* Require students to silence their phones.

* Share research findings on task switching that show multitasking students learn significantly less and perform on tests more poorly than students who focus solely on classwork.

* Use a simple activity to show how multitasking is less effective than single tasking: Ask students to count from one to ten, then ask them to recite the letters A through J. Either task takes about five seconds. Next, ask students to switch between the tasks: "A, 1, B, 2, C, 3..." This takes much longer because of the time required to switch back and forth.

* Ask students to put their screens and devices down during portions of the class session; make exceptions, as needed, for students with disabilities.

* Point out how laptops can distract students, seated nearby.

* Ask students using laptops to place them off to the side so that you can maintain eye contact.

* Establish consequences for inappropriate use.

* Design in-class assignments that use laptops or other devices for pairs or small groups; such exercises lessen the chance that students will use their devices inappropriately.

* Walk around the room during class and stand in the back of the room for a time.

Try to anticipate technical challenges.

If you will be using mobile technologies in your class, ask the campus technology staff for advice on how to handle problems such as unreliable wireless connections, differences among students' devices, protection and backup of files, and the like. (Sources: Caudill, 2007; Corbeil and Valdes-Corbeil, 2007; Reeves and Ward, 2005; Rekkedal and Dye, 2007)

            Examples of Mobile Learning


Faculty have put students' laptops to work in various ways (Barak et al., 2006; Efaw et al., 2004; Felder and Brent, 2005; Nilson and Weaver, 2005):

* Ask students to share access to information or to find facts online (for example, in a psychology class on sleep deprivation, an instructor asks, "Who holds the record for most consecutive hours without sleep?" "What are five established symptoms of sleep deprivation?")

* Conduct online searches using the resources of the library or a scholarly Web site.

* Work through problems using spreadsheet software.

* Take online quizzes.

* Conduct experiments in virtual science labs.

* View online images and video clips.

* Solicit anonymous questions from students during class.

* Ask students to produce a graphic simulation of a mathematical process.

* Conduct public chats or private "back channel" text messages that comment about the lecture or demonstration.

* Have students work in small groups that take a position for or against an issue, and post their key points on an online discussion board.


Podcasts are digital audio or video programs (sometimes called vodcasts) that can be accessed on mobile devices at the convenience of the listener or viewer. Some campus instructional technology offices maintain directories of podcasts from which instructors can select items appropriate to their course. In addition, instructional podcasts are available at iTunes U and YouTube, where universities have there own pages listing courses, speakers, and events. Instructors with the interest, time and skills can also create their own podcast or help students produce podcasts on course-related topic. UCLA and Purdue University offer information on creating podcasts.

Experienced faculty offer the following tips (adapted from Bell et al., 2007; Corbeil and Valdes-Corbeil, 2007; Eisenberg, 2007; Frydenberg, 2006; Staley, 2007):

* Select or create podcasts on the assumption that many students will access the material from a mobile device while they are engaged in another activity (such as commuting, exercising, or doing chores). In other words, assume that students may not be able to follow complex material or take notes.

* Select or create podcasts that provide supplementary materials: interviews with experts, guest speakers, debates, film clips, topical news, and the like.

* Limit the content of a supplementary podcast to a few main themes. As needed, divide topics or presentations into short chunks (10-15 minutes each) and create a series of podcasts from which students may choose the topics that interest them.

* If you are going to produce your own supplementary podcasts, create a weekly summary of the questions asked during office hours, offer a quick preview of the upcoming unit, or present a pre-exam review.

* If you are going to record your entire lecture, take advantage of lecture-capture software that records both words and digital images. Such software indexes words so that students can search for a specific term or point when they replay the lecture.

Cell phones as converged devices.

Multiple-function phone can be used to store and manipulate data; take pictures; download music; receive and send text messages and e-mail; access the Internet; show videos; stream live video; video conference; receive and send global-positioning signals; receive alerts about campus safety; replace clickers as classroom response  devices; send round-the-clock updates; browse mobile social networks; and conduct class business (find grades, register for classes, add/drop classes, use a content management system). Faculty also use mobile phones to quiz students during class; assign students to take photos on field trips and send the instructor the images in real time; and text message students as appropriate.

No matter how often you ask students to silence their phones, you will hear an occasional ring tone during class. some instructors impose a penalty (the offending student has to provide snacks for the class at the next session), and others use the interruption as an opportunity to review and interact with students, asking "Who can summarize the previous point?" or "What's the last thing you wrote down in your notes?" (Sources: Bloom, 2007; Campbell, 2006; Fischman, 2007)


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Bell, T. Cockburn, A., Wingkvist, A., and Green, R. "Podcasts as a Supplement in Tertiary Education: An Experiment with Two Computer Science Courses." Paper presented at the conference on Mobile Learning Technologies and Applications, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand, 2007.

Bloom, A. "Making Cell Phones in the Class a Community Builder." Teaching Professor, Mar. 2007, 4.

Campbell, S. "Perceptions of Mobile Phones in College Classrooms: Ringing, Cheating, and Classroom Policies." Communication Education, 2006, 55(3), 280-294.

Caudill, J.G. "The Growth of m-Learning and the Growth of Mobile Computing: Parallel Developments." International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2007, 8(2), 1-13.

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Efaw, J., Hampton, S., Martinez, S., and Smith, S. "Miracle or Menace: Teaching and Learning with Laptop Computers in the Classroom." Educause Quarterly, 2004, 27(3). 10-18.

Eisenberg, A. "What Did the Professor Say? Check Your i Pod." New York Times, Dec. 9, 2007.

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Frydenberg, M. "Principles and Pedagogy: The Two P's of Podcasting in the Information Technology Classroom." In the Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Conference of Information Systems Educators, Dallas, TX, 2006.

Hembrooke, H., and Gay, G. "The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments. "Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 2002, 15(1), 46-64.

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Rekkedal, R., and Dye, A. "Mobile Distance Learning with PDAs: Development and Testing of Pedagogical and System Solutions Supporting Mobile Distance Learners." International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2007, 8(2), 1-26.

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