Pedagogical Uses of Cell Phone Apps

For most of us, using apps has become second nature. Not only do those little programs allow us rapid access to information, they also enable us to connect, share, and collaborate. There are already various apps available for educational purposes; however, they still only find their way into the classroom inertly.

So, this blog post is designed as a means to share various offerings and to put them into, what I believe, are important pedagogical categories:
1. Increasing time-management skills
Even a simple app such as the one controlling the camera can help speed up the process of note-taking. For instance, students don’t have to write down the information on the board stoically anymore if they can simply take a quick snapshot with their cameras. As an instructor, it does take some time getting used to seeing students take photos of the board. But in an era in which efficient time management skills are crucial ingredients for success, it doesn’t hurt showing students that technology can, indeed, make our lives easier. Of course, other apps can also help students here such as the note-taking app Evernote to more dedicated education apps such as GeoGebra for studying math. What speaks in the apps’ favor is that students work within multimodal, interactive environments that are usually updated on a regular. All in all, there are various apps out there that instructors and students can and, I believe, should check out.
Yet, in my opinion the allure of cell phone apps for educational purposes becomes especially pronounced once we start treating apps as potential avenues for students to become (co-) producers of learning.
2. Developing active students
Beyond their affordance to offer almost instantaneous access to a wealth of information, apps can also empower students to become active contributors of learning content. Students can use their cell phones for multimodal, interactive assignments, for instance. The integrated camera and microphone allows them to conduct interviews wherever they go. Dedicated study group apps such as MyPocketProf allow students to teach one another when they study for major exams without having to be in the same place at the same time. Finally, programs such as the free Spreaker app can be used to create and share podcasts with ease. All of these apps allow students to become more exposed to technology, and instructors can help students to hone those skills for their later professional careers.
Many instructors, however, shy away from allowing students to use those tools because they already feel overwhelmed not only because of the sheer number of apps that are currently available, but also because instructors don’t want to allow their students to use tools that they don’t even know how to operate themselves. There is certainly sense in that. I would never recommend to a colleague to use a tool in the classroom because it’s supposed to be the latest and most trendy thing right now. So, never jump on the bandwagon. Still, I encourage instructors to take some time and familiarize themselves with these kinds of applications.
Our team at the Student Innovation Fellowship program is also here to advice instructors who are thinking about using these new tools in the classroom. So, feel free to message me if you have any questions. Also, if you know of other apps that would work well in an educational context, please leave a comment below.

1 comment

  1. This is really smart, Thomas. Almost all students have smartphones now – why not take advantage, right? But I am really glad that you say here that we shouldn’t just use apps because they’re the new thing.

    If you ever felt like developing this into a short article length piece, it might be a great fit for Hybrid Pedagogy. Contact me if you might be into that.

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