Getting smart with educational smartphone apps

Compost your No. 2 pencils and paper (if you still have any), and power down the laptop. Today's classroom necessities can be accessed from your mobile phone.

Mobile devices are revolutionizing the college classroom. Smartphones power new ways for students to learn, access information and communicate with each other. They create a "24-7 learning environment," according to Sprint educational sales director Ed Davalos. In 2007, the New Media Consortium said that "the time is approaching when these little devices will be as much a part of education as a bookbag". Five years later, that time is here: Most college students have a smartphone, and educational apps number into the tens of thousands.

Smartphones like the iPhone are even ubiquitous on high school campuses. According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 96 percent of high school students own cell phones, and 27 percent of those use their phones to go on the Internet. Some colleges, such as the University of Nebraska and Abilene Christian University, even give students an iPhone or iPod Touch with their admission packet. Apple's global marketing VP Greg Joswiak sees a trend emerging: "Colleges are expecting a very high pickup of the iPhone on their campuses."

Apps put college in your palm

Educational apps connect high school and college students with multimedia learning tools and bring real-time collaboration into the classroom. Teachers and administrators are using smartphone apps to take attendance, poll a classroom in real time or send out information about homework, exams, school events and more. Students, meanwhile, rely on their phones to take notes, study for exams and touch base with classmates. For online college students, the phone is the classroom: apps provide one-touch access to class materials and discussion boards.

Trinity Meadows high school teacher Matt Cook observes that phones "add a level of student engagement. They are more interested in the lessons because we're talking in the students' language." For online college senior Tracy Lawson, the iPhone is "a very helpful tool on the go."

The educational smartphone

Educational apps for mobile phones mobilize students on campus and online, in the classroom and at home studying. Some of the utilities available through smartphones include:

Polls and other classroom aids

Instructors use phones to share images or videos, take attendance and encourage student participation in class. Polling apps such as ResponseWare, for example, allow the instructor to ask a question and gather answers to a question in real time. "Polling opens up new realms for people for discussion," says Tyler Sutphen, an ACU sophomore. "It's a lot more interactive for those who aren't as willing to jump up and throw out their answer in class. Instead, you push a button on the iPhone." Northwestern University student Jonathan Webster finds that the phone encourages class attendance and participation: "It is definitely a tool to manage engagement, and it's very effective." Results appear instantly to the whole class as a graph, cloud or other infographic.

Mobilizing the online classroom

Mobile phones are a natural extension of the online learning experience. Many online degree programs have developed their own iPhone and Android apps to help students access the virtual classroom on the go. Some apps might let students participate in online discussion forums, receive real-time class announcements and communicate with instructors. Blackboard Mobile offers access to online courses using this popular virtual classroom application. View media presentations and connect to course discussion boards. Online instructors can also bring lectures and lab sessions to life using educational media apps such as AnatomyLab, Virtual Frog Dissection and many more.

Study aids

Most students' cellphones today double as study partners. In the classroom, notetaking apps prevail. The popular Evernote offers various ways for students to record and review information shared in class. "I love Evernote," says chemical and biomolecular engineering major Brock Weeldreyer at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I can just take a picture of my handout, and it's automatically stored on my iPhone and computer. That way I don't have to carry it around all over the place." Other study apps include flashcards, talking language phrasebooks and homework tracking.

Mobile devices--smart phones and tablet computers like the iPad and Motorola Xoom--empower communication and collaboration in daily life and work. The next step is to leverage this technology in the (campus or virtual) classroom. ACU medieval studies professor Bill Rankin envisions vast potential for mobile computing in education: "For us, it isn't primarily about the device. This is a question of, how do we live and learn in the 21st century now that we have these sorts of connections?"

Featured Schools