NPR logo Hey Teacher, Leave My Cell Alone!

Hey Teacher, Leave My Cell Alone!

Students are already heavy users of mobile devices on campus. Now, they may turn to them for academic reasons. hide caption

toggle caption

Students are already heavy users of mobile devices on campus. Now, they may turn to them for academic reasons.

Could there come a day when teachers actually ask students to turn on their smart phones for class?

 It's hard to imagine since college professors often tell students to turn their cell phones off.

In the course of reporting my All Tech Considered piece about learning management systems, it became clear that mobile phones and smart phones are going to become even more integrated into the educational technology landscape. And that's also likely to be the case for tablet devices like Apple's iPad.

Blackboard, which is best known for creating course management systems, recently announced plans to further expand into the mobile universe. The company is launching a mobile application called Blackboard Mobile Learn that will be available for smart phones and Wi-Fi-enabled devices in June.

So what does this mean for students and faculty?

Blackboard says the app will bring "two-way teaching and learning" to mobile devices so students will have the ability to look up assignments, check grades and access all of the same course materials they can presently do from a computer. The mobile app, however, will also allow students or faculty to post comments on course discussion boards or blogs. 

"What we've been finding is that students today are sometimes even abandoning their laptop computer in favor of these smart phones like the iPhone or the new Android devices that are coming out," says Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen. "And they're literally using that to access all of the information that they need on the Web, even to take notes in class or [to] pull up other information they find pertinent to the educational experience."

Last year, Blackboard paid $4 million to purchase Terriblyclever Design, a mobile application company that a group of undergraduate students at Stanford University created. Terriblyclever developed apps for Stanford, Duke and other institutions, including some K-12 schools. So far, about 70 colleges and universities have worked with Blackboard to develop apps for smart phones. Other schools are also doing so on their own.

These apps give faculty, students, prospective students and alumni access to maps and directories as well as information about athletics and courses. Now, students and faculty will be able to have full access to course material on the go.

Ban On Laptops

This migration toward smart phones comes at a time when some colleges and universities are banning laptops from classes, even though many institutions require students to own them.

Professors worry that students will be tempted to check e-mail and social networks or surf the Web instead of concentrating on the lecture or discussion.

One professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that undergraduates who regularly used laptops in her class actually got lower grades, on average, than other students who weren't wedded to the devices.

Classroom management systems — whether they're open source, like Sakai or Moodle, or a commercial version, such as the one offered by Blackboard — have the potential to change the format of classes, especially since professors can record their lectures and post them online for students to download on demand. If this becomes standard practice, it could help students be more at ease with note taking — regardless of whether they use a smart phone, laptop or a pad of paper.