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Using mobile devices in the college classroom is most successful when faculty manage their own and their students expectations. Many struggle to implement mobile devices effectively due to common misconceptions about how those devices differ in functionality and connectivity from computers.
Mobile Device v. Computer
One barrier to mobile device use in the classroom is understanding and appreciating that these devices are not intended to replace computers outright. While smart phones and other small mobile devices may appear to simply shrink the screen to smaller size with equal functionality, the reality is much different. Many do not have the same technical specifications, namely related to memory and storage as a computer of today. Even larger tablet mobile devices such as iPads and Chromebooks may have the appearance of laptop, they do not have the same capacity as a computer.
"Mobile devices facilitate opportunities for learning and often times enhance instructional strategies in new and different ways. Embracing them for what they are, what they are not, and how they best operate remains the key to successful use in today’s college classroom"
Mobile devices are designed primarily for consumption of content, versus computers are designed for more full production content creation. One reason for the phrase “there’s an app for that” is many websites have features that simply will not work in a web browser. There are functionality differences. Apps not only optimize the viewing of content on a smaller screen, many also provide alternative programming of features that work best on a mobile device.
Mobile Device Connectivity
Another barrier related to mobile device use in the classroom is wireless connectivity. Mobile devices typically leverage wireless connections that often will perform at a slightly less performing speed than that of a device physically connected to a network port.
Additionally, the distance between the mobile device and its nearest access point matters greatly on performance. Simply put, the further away or more people connected to that same access point, the weaker the signal
A final consideration is what is called “WiFi hopping” or a mobile device that is set to switch connections to different access points based on strength of connection. Relentless switching back and forth could lead to lost content or disruption in maintaining a reliable connection. Keeping these basic wireless networking principles in mind when using mobile devices will result in a better experience for all.
Mobile Device Advantages
Despite these barriers, mobile devices do offer some key advantages over computers in the classroom. One advantage is, by definition, they are portable and can go pretty much anywhere at any time; and many students have regular access to them. This means that mobile devices can provide faculty the opportunity to foster access to resources and information at their and their student’s finger tips at any time, as well as inhabit an ability for quick responses and support regular communication.
Another advantage is they are easier to use to create media such as images, audio, and video. Unlike a computer where cameras, microphones and other recording equipment needs be plugged in or less flexible to use; mobile devices have audio recording and cameras built in on an already portable device.
So, what are practical applications of mobile devices in classrooms or online courses? Taking into consideration the barriers and advantages, below are a few ways that mobile devices can be used in the classroom today:
• Course Communications: Mobile devices are great for facilitating back and forth conversation with tools like discussions and blogs as well as announcements and emails.
• Content Consumption: Because the device can go anywhere, it can facilitate student viewing of content in a variety of locations. Use of QR codes can eliminate issues typing URLs in the classroom.
• Lecture Engagement: Mobile devices encourage engagement with lectures by providing an opportunity to students to use polls and self-check quizzes with results available in real time in the classroom or online.
• Media creation: Mobile devices shine with media creation by allowing students to create pictures, audio and video in a variety of locations without having much background knowledge.
Mobile devices facilitate opportunities for learning and often times enhance instructional strategies in new and different ways. Embracing them for what they are, what they are not, and how they best operate remains the key to successful use in today’s college classroom.