#BYOD: 6 ways to make cell phones work in the classroom


Does it feel like every single one of your students has a smartphone? Well, it’s not just your imagination. According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of 18- to 29-year-olds owns a smartphone. It’s time to embrace the amazingly powerful devices your students carry in their pockets. Smartphones don’t have to be a distracting menace. Incorporating cell phones into the classroom can be one of the best tools to connect, empower, and engage your students. Here’s how.

1. Deliver assignments, lecture notes, prep sheets and more

Don’t you hate it when you spend hours creating prep sheets and test guides only to have your students lose or forget them when it’s time to review in class? Now, you can use smartphones to make sure your students have access to all your classroom materials. Apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Google Classroom let you create class-specific folders where you can save all your materials. Instead of passing around practice sheets, just give your students permission to access the online folder and they’ll have everything they need. You’ll also save a lot of paper. Mother Nature will thank you.

2. Less time lecturing, more time discussing

There will always be a place in class for your excellent lectures, but if you want to spend more time encouraging discussions and cultivating student engagement, your students’ smartphones can make that possible. Use your phone or a handy presentation app, like Doceri or FlowVella, to record your lectures and ask students to review them before class. This will free up class time so your students—freshly prepped—can discuss the lecture topic with you. This is an excellent way for you to dive deeper into the topics and to focus on areas where students may be struggling with comprehension.

3. Create an online classroom portal for direct engagement

Classroom discussions and voluntary participation are likely to be dominated by your more outgoing students, but that doesn’t mean your introverted students don’t have a lot to add. Make it easy for everyone to participate, by creating an online classroom message platform. Messaging apps, like Slack and Troop Messenger, are excellent ways to encourage questions and answers from even your shyest students. These apps also work great for creating quick, in-class assignments. For instance, in your history class, you may ask your students to each find an example of a political cartoon related to a historical presidential election. Your students can use their phones to scour the internet and each submit a link to the messaging app. Project the results on screen and choose student examples to review and discuss. These messaging platforms can also be a resource to keep the discussion going after class, and you may even want to use them for “virtual office hours” or to create a poll.

4. Quiz your students

To really understand the comprehension of your entire classroom, try using Poll Everywhere to gauge what your students understand and where they may need more help. Poll Everywhere allows you to create multiple-choice or open-ended questions. Using their phones, your students can visit a link and submit answers to your questions. The answers to your poll will update in real-time, automatically creating a graph or chart of the responses. You can also use Poll Everywhere to have your students vote on which type of assignment they would prefer to receive or what topic they would like to learn more about.

5. Encourage your students to get creative with their assignments


The world is filled with free or low-cost apps that allow students to make compelling slide decks (Haiku Deck), create astounding videos (Adobe Premiere Rush), or design cool images (Canva). Many of your students will eventually graduate into our new “knowledge economy” where the ability to creatively share information is a crucial skill. Help them build their talents now by allowing them to get creative and utilize smartphone apps with their homework assignments.

6. Music for study time

An article for the National Education Association highlighted history teacher Ken Halla who explains that he is happy to allow his students to stream music during quiet periods in class when it’s time to read, study, or work on an assignment. “It’s amazing,” he writes, “The noise level in the classroom goes down, and the work amount goes up.” When it’s time to come back together as a class, Halla asks his students to take out their earbuds so he knows they are ready to listen to him. You may also want to consider allowing your students to listen to their favorite music (with earbuds in, of course) when it’s time to study, read, or write.

These are just six examples of how smartphones can be an educational tool instead of a drawback in your classroom. Cell phones in the classroom aren’t going away, so the teachers who are willing to embrace their positive attributes can help increase student engagement in their classrooms. To learn more about how to use Poll Everywhere to engage even your most withdrawn students, take a look at our article, “6 Classroom Engagement Strategies to Reach Introverted Students.”