The beginning of a school year is an exciting time for secondary educators. They’re tidying up classrooms, updating wall décor and perfecting their first-day routine.

However, along with this excitement come the inevitable tasks that usually  haunt the bottoms of teachers’ to-do lists. Things like finalizing disclosure statements, organizing seating charts, and—perhaps most terrifying of all—revisiting their classroom smartphone policy.

Today, 73% of teens have access to smartphones, and 92% of teens go online on a daily basis, which means their phones aren’t going anywhere. Addressing the conflict between teachers and their content vs. students and their smartphones is not an easy process. Some educators are staunch believers in the prohibition philosophy—if they see a phone, they snatch it and keep it until the end of class. This is only a temporary fix, however.

The best way to combat the ubiquity of smartphones is to put them to work for you. Thanks to the freedom that Web 2.0 gives to software developers, there are thousands of mobile apps and programs that can help teachers and students use smartphones as a resource instead of a distraction.

Collaborative Apps

For class-wide collaboration, apps like Poll Everywhere and VoxVote are excellent for facilitating class discussions or conducting short, formative assessments. Essentially these apps let the teacher create a polling suite online, and the students can use their smartphones to participate in whatever polling activity that the teacher chooses. Poll Everywhere can even be accessed by so-called “dumb phones” via text messaging.

Not only do these programs help students focus in the classroom, but they’re also great ways to engage those students who are more comfortable with anonymous participation than speaking in class.

Individual Apps

On a more personalized level, there are several apps that can help students keep themselves organized as well, which is one of the best ways to keep them engaged and on task.

Programs like Dropbox and Evernote have intuitive mobile apps that let students keep track of their different projects, and the cloud-based interface lets them access those projects from any computer. Apps like Any.Do and Focus Booster can replace written student planners, and help them better manage their time, and apps like EpicWin add a gamified, fantasy element to maintaining a to-do list.

In addition to the wide variety of educational apps that are available, today’s mobile devices are equipped with photography and video technology that affords students the opportunity to be more visually creative with their classwork. It’s easy for humanities classes to collaborate on podcasts or for students to use filmmaking as a way to craft their essays.

For example, Opinion Podcasts let students record, edit, and publish their own podcasts which their peers can find via the iTunes Podcast Directory. Students who prefer visual storytelling over the written word can use Splice, a low-key video editing app that comes equipped with free sound effects and cinematic filters. STEM classes can get involved with the coding movement with apps like Hopscotch that teach students how to code with fun and engaging activities.

These possibilities let teachers get more creative with their lesson planning, and the students tend to respond positively to a teacher that is having just as much fun as they are.

Possible Concerns

While there are many benefits to using students’ mobile devices in the classroom, it’s a territory that also raises concerns for parents and educators. The biggest issue with mobile learning has to do with student and school resources.

Regardless of how many teens have smartphones and internet access, there are always those in schools who do not have these resources, and it’s important to keep them included. Many teachers address this concern by making mobile learning activities group-focused, assigning one student in each group to be in charge of transmitting the group’s answers via smartphone. Schools have even found ways to use budgets to purchase classroom sets of tablets that students can use while at school. If that isn’t an option, teachers and administrators have success using donorschoose.org to create campaigns to raise money for classroom technology.

Whether you’re an educator hoping to incorporate different learning methods, or an elearning company hoping for better engagement, mobile technology is the future. Helping students use their smartphones as resources rather than distractions is a valuable process regardless of a teacher’s content area—plus it’s really fun to explore the apps and programs that are available, and find new ones that meet your needs as an educator.

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Blake Beus is the Director of Learning Solutions at Allen Communication Learning Services. Follow him on Twitter: @BlakeBeus.


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