At last I have managed to use smartphones to good effect in a class.
By this I mean leveraging the students' ownership of technology 'in the wild', that is to say as opposed to being under my directed control. It's one thing to setup a lesson to use an 'app', then write it up as an example of the 'potential of personal technology to create masterminds' and wholly another just to make use of them (smartphones).
To do this I had to do one of the things that give teachers the horrors. I had to not mind that not only were they ‘carrying’ but also that they were switched on and clearly getting traffic to their devices. The thought of secret ‘RU up4 it?’ style IMs in class gives most schools the shivers.
I realised it was possible because the students’ behaviour towards their devices has changed subtly over the past few years. Firstly they have the phone on silent/vibrate, secondly they are perfectly happy to ignore it when it suits and thirdly they skim-read and barely engage with unimportant stuff. Come to think of it, just like you and me.
In other words phone disruption has decreased. It is like comparing a class chatting to each other obviously ignoring the teacher to a situation that would be more like a quiet aside and a shared glance. One is wholly useless for learning the other just happy-normal.
In other words, engagement in the work, respect for the situation and good manners has produced an etiquette that with a bit of care allows for phones in class!
Ok, so what do we use the smartphone for?
Firstly what they are not used for:
Strangely web-browsing is rare, they would love YouTube but it’s blocked by our filters. Any kind of note taking such as text entry using an Office-style app simply does not happen. No games either as they chew batteries (you need a power outlet for Tetris).
What they are used for:
Number 1 is as a calculator, I bet you would not have guessed that?
Number 2 is as a camera. In science class they will instinctively capture experimental apparatus results and complex diagrams built up on the board. These pictures find their way into most assignments and get shared a lot.
Number 3 also surprised me. A while ago we decided that pdfs were uncool and converted most of their uploaded assignments to e-reader format as well as the resources made available to them. They actually like reading stuff on their phones (must have good eyes) especially if they can get a page-turning curl animation. So I go with the flow ... epub it is for resources.
Number 4: Wikipedia ... they now will quick search anything I know it has happened by the unexpected depth of a question or comment!
A calculator, camera and a big book...quite useful really, they might catch on.