Smartphones have today become part and parcel of our lives, particularly among young people. It enhances communication, provides access to business, and serves as a pool for the retrieval of information without the restriction of borders or monopoly by a section of the media.
But the smartphones can also be distractive, and more distracting perhaps if you are a teacher. Last year while teaching a course on global media to first year undergraduates at Northumbria University, one of the challenges I faced, and I am sure other lecturers do face as well, is that the students divide their attention between the lecture and playing with their smartphones. They spend time chatting with their friends on Facebook and twitter. That continued till the end of the lecture. If you draw the attention of the students, they might stop for a while, but once you turn around to go through the next slide in your presentation, or walk around the class, the students will continue to play with these smartphones. And it was clear that these generations of students have grown with their smartphones; they are their virtual twins, so what can you do? The best is to utilize it as a resource for teaching, and many teachers are experimenting with that. For the first time in my teaching career, I asked the students to use their smartphones to search for information regarding the course, and that solved the problem immediately. Rather than wasting time during class twitting and facebooking, the smartphone can be useful in teaching.
The next thing that came to my mind is how to utilize this technology by teachers in higher institutions in countries where there is poor communication infrastructure, particularly due to poor electricity, but ironically, where there is meteoric rise in the ownership of smartphones. Despite the lack of constant electricity, people device ways to make sure that their batteries are fully charged. So are you a teacher at a higher institution? Here are five suggestions for you to consider in utilizing the smartphones that your students carry to class.
Firstly, gone are the days when a lecturer comes to class talking to students or dictating notes to them for one or two hours, in some cases even three. Teaching requires variety of approaches, with smartphones you can ask students to search through YouTube and look for video materials relevant to your course. I am aware that not all the students have a smartphone and many cannot even afford it. But if in a class of 50 you have 5 students with smartphones, you can group them into 5 groups, and they can watch it together and have discussion afterwards. That way you can avail your students with lectures presented by some of the best professors in your field.
Secondly, smartphones come with a Google search application. This is in fact the easiest tool to use in class room teaching. You can save yourself and the students the burden of printing papers, such tools in Google like Google Scholar which brings access to academic publications and conference papers can be used to access important literature, without having to go through the trash that comes with normal Google search. When explaining terms that are too technical or require the use of a dictionary, never ignore the smartphones that your students carry in their pocket, if you don't use it for teaching they will use it for socializing.
Thirdly, is developing a specialized application for teaching purpose and then be made available on Apple Stores and Android. This is something that universities can do whether in Nigeria, Ghana or India. A smartphone application can be produced sometimes between one thousand to ten thousand dollars depending on the level of sophistication. Such app can have facilities for sending alerts to students in case of shifting a lecture, announcing exam timetable, organizing group work etc.
Fourthly, in such courses like media and communications, smartphones can be used to assign students to produce multimedia work. This is because smartphones come with a voice recorder and video apps that can be used to record audio and video materials, get it edited and uploaded to YouTube or other video platforms. CNN correspondents have of recent produced reports using smartphones, so it is doable. I have seen radio stations record interviews with smartphones, and the quality is better than that of some of the recording machines that are used in radio production.
Fifthly, using a smartphone, a teacher can organize a virtual class room using different applications including Skype. Students can join the teacher if for certain valid reasons he cannot come to the class. He can hold the lecture virtually while the students log on and participate.
I am not unmindful of the challenges that might come with this, especially where the network providers are notorious for providing poor services, or the possibility of taking advantage of these facilities to avoid holding classes physically. But it is worth trying, you can invent your additional approaches as well. Most importantly, further research can help in improving the quality of teaching by using smartphones.