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Communicating in Class with Mobile Devices

Modified on: Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 11:41 AM


Below you'll find a list of tips on using mobile devices to enhance communication in class.

  • Plan out definite dos and don’ts for mobile devices
    Using communicative or social technology without structure can quickly escalate into unproductive class time. Provide definite boundaries and rules for its use to ensure students know how and when it’s appropriate.
  • Use it but don’t abuse it
    Communicative or social technology can often be exciting to use but may become distracting if ignored as a force all its own. Consider using strategies that help hone attention on you, the instructor, rather than the digital conversations that may be happening while in class. For example, realize the potency of a projected screen displaying a Twitter feed. The screen could usurp attention away from your instruction.
  • Allow semi-anonymity when possible (or fitting)
    Some students may choose not to be identified online. Make sure you outline that they may have a non-identifying username or call sign but that you need to be notified about which one is theirs. In this manner a student can feel more protected in asking or answering questions without the added stress of embarrassment. Remember, this is a FERPA issue.
  • Asking and answering questions = engagement
    Similar to in-class clicker use, a common strategy involves letting students ask or answer questions using communicative technology. Using this technique provides students additional routes of input that normally aren’t addressed via hand-raising or calling out loud. As an added benefit it also allows you to provide some anonymity for your students, which may contribute to more fluid conversation without embarrassment.
  • Be device-agnostic when possible
    Unless you’re supplying them, not everyone will have the same device. Even if they do, there’s little chance they’ll all be completely compatible with each other. Try to strike a balance with apps or features that are readily available across multiple platforms. For instance, Google Voice has apps available for iOS and Android, but also can be accessed over any web browser.
  • Make device setup homework
    Try not to spend too much time on setup in class. This can waste valuable time, especially for those who might already have or be familiar with what you’re wanting to use. Write up or point to already existing documentation on setting up the app or service for particular devices. This may not eliminate all problems but is likely to lessen the time spent on getting to actual course content.
  • Have an old-fashioned backup plan
    Whether it’s because the internet is down or a mobile device is broken, always have a non-technical backup plan. Technology is always improving, but there are still times when we need to be prepared to teach without it. Ensure you don’t lose a class time by having a backup plan in your pocket just in case.
  • Have alternatives for students who don’t wish to participate
    Some students may feel that using a particular app, service, or device is legitimately objectionable. Most of the time it is within their right to do so: you cannot force them to use something that isn’t required for the course upfront. For these cases, be sure you have a suitable alternative that will engage them on a similar level.
  • Grading mobile interaction: try to be neither too meticulous nor inattentive
    When considering student motivation for mobile communication in class, try not to be too particular. For instance, with Twitter, grading per tweet could become cumbersome to track for both you and the students. By the same token, don’t be too lenient either. Try to strike a balance that urges quality interaction at an acceptable rate.
  • Include “netiquette” and online responsibility statements in your syllabus
    Opening up new lines of communications can be empowering for students—sometimes so much so they forget their responsibility to behave politely as a member of the academic institution. Be sure to include statements about their safety, privacy, and for all behaviors online.

Specific advice on using Twitter in the classroom:

  • Extend the learning outside of the classroom through posting of course-related videos, news articles, and questions/comments
  • Encourage interaction and feedback between students. Students reply to each other's posts even when not required to do so.
  • Provide a quick and convenient way to post course-related content and questions. Tweets are only a max of 140 characters, so this fits well within our "content snacking" culture, where microblogging via social media is a regular activity among students.
  • Stimulate discussion. In online courses, tweeted discussion questions are used to engage in brief "conversations." It’s also useful to bring up these discussion question tweets in face-to-face courses. Try to respond to as many students as possible—this will help gauge where students are at with course material and provides them a sense of being heard.
  • Remember that tweets can be used for more than just discussion; they can also be used as announcements. Try tweeting reminders about deadlines or upcoming events in the course. In comparison to Canvas discussion boards, Twitter can be great for encouraging spontaneous creative thinking and participation.
  • Use a hashtag for your course that is unique, and ask your students to use this hashtag for their course tweets. For example, if you were teaching Basket Weaving 2900 you could have students use “#BW2900MU” or something similar. To ensure that the hashtag is unique, try searching for it in the Twitter search bar. Another possibility to keep class tweets organized is to have students use the @reply/mention function to direct their tweet to you.

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