How Smartphones Could Change College Life
Smartphones like Apple's iPhone and the Blackberry have revolutionized the way we connect not only with each other but with the world at large. It was only a matter of time before their effects were felt by the world of higher education. One school, Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Texas, has even given iPhones or iPod Touches to all of their students as a technological experiment. How are schools taking advantage of this new connectivity?
A Smarter Campus
Like many technological innovations, smartphones are not yet a trend everyone has bought into. It almost seems unbelievable (at least, to people of a certain generation) that some faculty members at ACU turned down free iPhones when they were offered by the administration. Not every educator sees it as worthwhile to embrace devices that can just as easily be used to distract as to educate.
Other teachers, however, welcome this technology. The potential of instant connectivity with a class full of students, regardless of geographical proximity, is something they see as worth harnessing. Some professors, for instance, might send text message alerts to their students in the event of a postponed class or exam. That beats the immediacy of an email (which, in truth, will probably go to a student's smartphone anyway, but it might take a little longer).
Applications for the Classroom
Some educators have even more unique approaches to using smartphones in mind. Stephen Baldridge, an assistant professor of social work at ACU, used his students' iPhones to play a scavenger-hunt style game where his charges explored campus to learn about different social outreach programs available. The phones acted as a proxy for Baldridge, taking the students where they needed to go and providing instant communication (via text messaging) if they had questions.
Even within the confines of a classroom, teachers have found clever uses of smartphone technology. Several professors at ACU have employed an iPhone app that turns the devices into game show-style 'clickers' that allow students to 'buzz in' with answers to questions. This has proven especially helpful in lectures, where traditionally some students may find it hard to speak up.
Applications for School at Large
Beyond individual classes, some smartphone apps have become very useful for college students and even faculty. For instance, a bus tracker app lets anyone commuting cross-campus know how long they'll have to wait for their ride. Such applications have already been successfully implemented on a larger, urban scale by cities like New York and Chicago.
Other apps exist to help you get around in different ways, such as those designed as campus tour guides. They merge GPS positioning with campus information to create a free-form audio tour of one's surroundings. This can be really helpful for incoming students looking to find their way to class - especially if some enterprising app designer were to combine such a program with class schedules, allowing students to input their courses and showing them exactly when and where they needed to be.
A recent conference about smartphone technology on campuses hosted by ACU found many educators spending time talking about a 'killer app,' one that'd work for all educators interested in embracing this new technology. One wonders if that's really the right approach to take. One of the greatest assets of smartphones is that they're totally customizable to anyone's individual lifestyle - whether you're an author, a musician, a stockbroker or a stay-at-home parent there are apps designed for you. There can be no debating whether the technology is useful - it is. Educators just need to find a way to harness it for themselves.
Check out some technologies that K-12 classrooms are excited to employ.