Studying with phone

Texting and Teaching: Embracing Mobile Devices as Learning Tools

Studying with phone

Mobile devices have revolutionized the way we interact and communicate in our personal lives, but have you considered how they have changed academic environments?

The use of smart phones, tablet computers, and other small, hand-held, portable devices has increased dramatically in recent years, and a recent survey found that an increasing number of students attribute smart phones and e-book readers to their academic success. In fact, the survey found that 67 percent of students’ reported using their mobile devices for academic purposes. This is a good thing, as studies have found that students’ use of mobile devices has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, and learning (Beckmann, 2010; Bolliger, Supanakorn, & Boggs, 2010; Ifenthaler & Schweinbenz, 2013).

Why specifically are students flocking to using these new technologies? And how can instructors make the most of them? Let’s explore the uses and benefits of mobile devices in academic settings.

They make it convenient for students to check in on courses.
When I was a graduate student, not very long ago, I appreciated receiving push notifications on my phone from the learning management system (LMS) where my online courses were housed. I was notified when grades were posted, when modules opened, when deadlines changed, and when someone responded to my discussion posts. Push notifications ensured I had class information when I needed it, no matter where I was located. Having the ability to set my notification preferences within the system was ideal as well; I could choose what was important to me, and what I could live without.

Additionally, my mobile devices were my connection to online classes when I was not at a computer. I could post a quick response to a discussion thread or glance at the requirements for an upcoming assignment, all while travelling. Mobile devices help students feel more connected to their classes because they go with them wherever they go.

They allow instructors to engage with students more frequently.
Instructors can use online group texting applications, such as GroupMe, to push questions or ideas to students throughout the week, to pique their interest in the content and to encourage more critical thought about the subject matter. No matter where students are, or what they are doing, the text message is likely to be read, and it makes them stop to ponder course content briefly during their everyday lives.

The propensity for push notifications to result in application of content to students’ lives is huge. For a public speaking course I taught recently, I sent a group text message to my students mid-week to ask them to critique a public speaker, such as a teacher or organization leader, they encountered in their lives outside class. I didn’t require a written critique, just a mental one, and the assignment wasn’t graded; it was merely to provoke critical thought and was something they could share later with the class. This made for lively and engaging class discussions.

Mobile devices can also be a venue for polling students. PollEverywhere is a useful web application for eliciting brief responses to open-ended or multiple choice questions. Academic uses of social media, such as course Facebook pages and back channel Twitter feeds, can also be easily accessed via mobile devices. Additionally, instructors can choose to communicate personally with students via their mobile devices; I have used Google Voice to connect with students on the phone, and to send and receive personal messages to and from students regarding class. Students tell me they feel more connected to me as an instructor when they can text message me with a question about an assignment while they are completing it. The nearly instant feedback they receive from me enhances the pace of their learning and reduces confusion or substandard work that may be submitted later. By setting initial boundaries and expectations for contacting me via my cell phone (e.g., establishing “do not contact” times), I rarely have students abuse their instructor contact privileges.

According to students who responded to a survey I conducted about college students’ mobile device use, time spent on academics increases with increased mobile device use. The mobile device is like an extra limb on a student’s body; why not meet students where they are already living? Reach them in their world, and draw them into yours.

They provide quick access to supplementary materials and tools.
The students I polled said they believe their mobile devices enhance learning; whether this is actually true or not, it definitely makes information, resources, and people more accessible. In face-to-face classes, I have asked students to “fact check” the accuracy of a claim I have made about the course content. Often they find interesting information that leads to a more in-depth look at the content than I had planned for class. Also, I have found when the instructor facilitates mobile-ready activities, class distractions minimize themselves automatically.

There are numerous academic applications that can be downloaded on mobile devices. The Explain Everything app allows for use of an interactive online whiteboard and a screencasting tool to explain concepts and ideas. Evernote and Zotero are additional applications useful for saving references, notes, resources, and for citing sources. Google Drive has an application that allows users to access their collaborative documents, spreadsheets, and presentations through their mobile devices — making group projects much easier to manage.

The bottom line is, when mobile devices are embraced as learning tools, they have endless potential. Are you using mobile devices for your courses? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.


Beckmann, E. A. (2010). Learners on the move: Mobile modalities in development studies. Distance Education, 31(2), 159-173.

Bolliger, D. U., Supanakorn, S., & Boggs, C. (2010). Impact of podcasting on student motivation in the online learning environment. Computers & Education, 55, 714-722.

Ifenthaler, D., & Schweinbenz, B. (2013). The acceptance of Tablet-PCs in classroom instruction: The teachers’ perspectives. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 525-534.

2 thoughts on “Texting and Teaching: Embracing Mobile Devices as Learning Tools”

  1. 1 — Not allowing texting encourages it. The more we take things from students, the more they want them. Mobile devices become a forbidden fruit, if we hang them from a tree. However, if we tell students to take out their mobile devices and place them on their tables, the desire to use them inappropriately will soon disappear.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top