The Great Mobile Devices Debate: A False Binary (Part 2: Best Practices for ICTs in the Classroom)

Noting that the literature on this topic is in a nascent state, the focus of this report will now turn to concrete strategies and choices that have been shown to increase effectiveness of ICTs in the classroom. All of these strategies, by nature of being strategies that utilize ICTs, can be considered to be subsumed under “structured use.” This list of strategies and products is far from exhaustive. Rather, this section is intended to demonstrate how some tools are being used to create intentional, structured technology-enhanced learning experiences and thus maximizing the benefit of ICTs while mitigating the drawbacks. 

Twitter 

Twitter has been documented repeatedly as an ICT tool that can be effectively employed in college classrooms (e.g., Blessing, Blessing & Fleck, 2012; Dhir, Buragga, & Boreqqah, 2013; Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011). Elavsky and colleagues (2011), for example, examined the use of Twitter in a large lecture hall. They found “rich and varied student engagement with Twitter… which generally improved student impressions, participation and enthusiasm” (p. 229). While they suggest that this benefit may be tempered by the fact that only about half of the students in class engaged significantly in the Twitter discussions and a handful were routinely active, this analysis does not account for the benefits possibly accrued by social media “listeners” (Crawford, 2009, p. 526). 

Junco and colleagues (2011) explored the use of Twitter in smaller classrooms (avg. N = 18) similarly found that encouraging students to use Twitter both in and outside of class resulted in significant improvements in engagement as well as semester grades when compared to control groups wherein no such encouragement was offered. 

Dunlap and Lownthal (2009) examined the use of Twitter to supplement online learning. They concluded that designing online courses constrained by the parameters of the course learning management system (LMS; e.g., Canvas, Blackboard) was a disservice for engaging students in terms of “social presence” (Knowles, 1990); a shortcoming that was effectively remedied by utilizing Twitter as a way to connect students and instructors more informally. 

Mobile Apps 

The utility of Mobile Apps in higher education appears to largely be in niches. For example, there is evidence of utility of select educational mobile apps in anatomy/medicine (Briz-Ponce, Juanes-Méndez, García-Peñalvo, & Pereira, 2016), psychology (Diliberto-Macaluso & Hughes, 2016), language learning (Steel, 2012), science (admittedly, in the context of K-12; Zydney & Warner, 2016), teacher education field experiences (Lai, Leung, Wong, & Yuen, 2016), and other kinds of field experiences (France et al., 2016; Thomas & Fellowes, 2017). Most of these applications appear to take place outside the physical classroom most of the time, however.

There is some discussion of using mobile apps for more general purposes, however. For example, a mobile messaging app was shown to be effective in facilitating inter-student and student-instructor communication in a large lecture hall (Gan & Balakrishnan, 2017), which may alleviate security concerns with discussions held publicly via Twitter. On study, set in Hong Kong, but possibly transferable, suggests that undergraduate students are recently taking to mobile apps more frequently for educational purposes than ever before (Wai, Ng, Chiu, Ho, & Lo, 2016). 

One specific branch of mobile apps that is gaining utility quickly is that of augmented reality (AR). AR applications (e.g., Aurasma, Google Translate) can be used to overlay digital content in real-world contexts. For example, AR has recently been used to reconstruct 3-D models of steel architectural details to support student learning in architectural courses (Abdullah, Kassim, & Sanusi, 2017) and in medical courses, with such marvels as augmented reality surgery practice forthcoming (Kamps, 2017). 

Cloud-based Audience Response Systems 

A multitude of cloud-based response systems drawing from ICTs (e.g., Nearpod, Socrative, Kahoot!, Google Forms, Poll Anywhere) can be used as a way to provide opportunity to respond and as a method of collecting pre-assessment or formative assessment data in classes ranging from small to large (e.g., Alexander, Crescini, Juskewitch, Lachman, & Pawlina, 2009; Collins, 2008; McClean & Crowe, 2017). Clickers (Turning Technologies, n.d.) is one such tool for facilitating this sort of data collection without ICTs; however, ICTs can be harnessed effectively for cloud-based response systems without additional expense or “another” device for students who already own own a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. 

Socrative, for example, is an online student response system that allows instructors to quickly (even spontaneously) generate quizzes or throw out “quick questions” and monitor student responses in realtime. It has been shown to be effective in the context of higher eduction as a way of increasing student engagement, on-task behavior, achievement, and even attendance in some contexts (Awedh, Mueen, Zafar, & Manzoor, 2015; Wash, 2014; Wilkinson & Barter, 2016).

Nearpod is another such multi-platform application that simultaneously brings lecture notes (i.e., PowerPoint) directly to student devices and builds in the ability for instructors to have students respond in numerous ways from polling to quizzes to drawing responses. Its use in higher education has been shown to positively impact the learning environment to be more student-oriented, enhanced student learning and improved interaction (Jing & Yue, 2016; Ryan, 2017).

Shared Note taking (via Google Docs, Office 365) 

Shared note taking is an approach to student engagement and recording that involves more than one student collaborating in a shared space to record notes from a live lecture or class session. There are numerous ways that such note taking can be facilitated including through dedicated applications (e.g., GroupNotes, LiveNotes) or cloud-based documentation platforms (e.g., Evernote, Google Docs, Office 365). Literature on the topic of shared note taking in higher education consistently shows positive effects toward reducing student isolation (Reyna, 2010), allowing students to share their “collective intelligence” (Surowiecki, 2005, p. xiv), improving conceptualization (Miyake & Masukawa, 2013), and improving academic performance (Chiu, Wu, & Cheng, 2013). 

Summary and Interim Conclusion 

In this section, I provided a partial list of strategies that appear in the literature as effective solutions for using technology for benefit in the higher education classroom. This list of tools is in no way intended to be exhaustive. The utility of starting this list in this report is to demonstrate that there is a clear record in the literature of ICTs being used to with powerful positive outcomes when they are used intentionally and in a structured fashion. Each discipline, each instructor, and each lesson will warrant the use of different tools to fit the context. Conducting needs analyses in relation to goals and identifying tools (technological or otherwise) to best fit the needs and enable students to accomplish the goal must remain the procedural approach for identifying the best solution. 

When a technology tool is warranted that would call for students to use their ICTs, providing clear, explicit instructions and guidelines for students to use their tablets, phones, and laptops effectively to further their learning is needed. In most cases, balancing this sort of intentional and proactive use of ICTs with intentional and proactive non-use of ICTs (i.e., a restriction model) appears at this time to be the best practice. Facilitating this sort of proactive approach toward technology use (and non-use) will require local efforts in classrooms, departments, colleges, and perhaps the university as a whole to establish a healthy technology culture (Easter, Schommer-Aikins, & Vitale, 2012) whereby technology is the right tool used for the right job at the right time - even if that sometimes means not being used at all.

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