By: Tori Roberts

At the beginning of each semester, as the students file into the lecture hall for their first course of the semester, it is not uncommon to see the following statement on course syllabi:

“Cell phones must be turned off during class. Students should not be text messaging or using electronic communication during class. Improper use of phones and other devices during class is distracting for both the professor and students.”

These days, nearly everyone has a mobile phone or smartphone device. As a society, we have become dependant on these gadgets, to the point where it can be challenging to function without having access to a world of information – from transit schedules, to news, to weather or stock market updates – literally at our fingertips. However, as technology like slideshows and multimedia presentations become common fixtures in the classrooms, there remains a reluctance to embrace “social” media in the learning space. Instead, many instructors view mobile devices as potential distractions in the classroom that can serve to disengage students from the material at hand (Froese, Carpenter et al., 2012). In this article, I seek to challenge this paradigm concerning cellphone use in the classroom setting by proposing ways in which students can use their mobile devices to enhance the learning process by engaging with course material through innovative mediums. Through a review of the literature and research into emerging technologies, I will explain how smartphones can be used as an innovative tool to promote collaboration, enhance creativity, and improve communication in the classroom.

Pohio and Falloon (2010), professors of education in New Zealand, conducted a qualitative study to elicit feedback from students and educators about the impact of mobile technology in the classroom. They conclude that educators must move beyond the notion of using mobile technology as another medium to deliver lesson content, and recommend that mobile devices be integrated strategically in order to “support designs for learning where access, inclusion, opportunity and participation in learning are priorities” (p. 3).

 Dialogue with high school educators in the United States revealed that teachers at the high school level have been integrating technology into their curriculum through podcasts, blogs, and data collection through photos, videos, and voice recordings. Ted A. Lysiak, a director of instructional technology for a school district in Euclid, Ohio, noted that traditional teaching and instruction is not flawed or “boring” to students, rather the “outside world […] has become so engaging, but we haven’t kept up” (Trotter, 2009).

Webb (2013) advocates for the integration of mobile devices into classroom settings and presents a range of opportunities for teaching staff to use smartphones for enhanced communication, improved organization, and enriched curriculum. She does caution teachers that there are limitations to the integration of mobile devices into the classroom—namely, that it can be alienating for students who do not have access to the technology. In order to address this, Webb recommends polling the class in order to determine if the majority of students have access to smartphone technology, and requesting that students share their devices, thus encouraging peer cooperation and collaboration. It is also recommended that the instructor pilot the technology in advance of the lesson to ensure compatibility devices and strong connectivity of wireless infrastructure, thus allowing instructors to design the activities accordingly (p. 182). In order to ensure that the smartphone use remains constructive, instructors should set firm boundaries regarding the use of mobile devices in the classroom. This could involve requesting that devices are visible at all time (on the desk) in order to monitor student’s use to ensure that they are solely being used for classroom activities and not distracting students from the tasks or discussions at hand.

Recent literature is beginning to shift in favour of integrating mobile technology into the classroom; however, there remains the question of practical tools and resources that can be employed in order to leverage the power of handheld devices and smartphones in a learning setting. The following resources are a small sample of the tools and applications that professors and teaching staff can introduce in order to facilitate student engagement through the promotion of collaboration, creativity, and enhanced communication. 


  • Kahoot!
    Kahoot! is a web-based learning platform that allows educators to develop interactive quizzes complete with text, videos, images, and other media. The quiz is hosted on the classroom computer and projected so it is visible to the class. Students respond to the quizzes by signing into the game online through the unique code associated with each quiz. Students can then respond to the quiz questions through their mobile devices.
    Pedagogical Contribution: Developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Kahoot! uses games and interactive quizzes to initiate peer-led discussions, conduct formative assessments of student learning, and reinforce course content.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to “host” quiz; projector; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection
  • Web Whiteboard
    This is an interactive online whiteboard that allows instructors to illustrate concepts visually through their computer or tablet, as well as invite students to contribute to the visual. The link to the whiteboard can be shared with the class (via TodaysMeet or another instant messaging platform) or specific students can be invited by email and called upon to add to the visual depiction.
    Pedagogical Contribution: While many classrooms have access to a whiteboard or a chalkboard, an interactive whiteboard allows students to partake in the visual demonstration and capture the examples on their devices for reference and studying purposes.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to access website; projector; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection.


  • Learnist
    Learnist allows instructors or students to create virtual “learning boards” where lesson material, course content, and various media can be virtually “pinned” under a topic or category. Students can engage with the material during class or after class, in order to explore supplementary readings, relevant articles, listen to podcasts, link to video clips and documentaries, and share infographics and study guides.
    Pedagogical Contribution: The tool is useful for educators to organize their resources, but can also be used to facilitate a “flipped classroom” whereby students are assigned or encouraged to create their own “learning boards” to link course material to supplementary reading, videos, images, and activities, thus allowing for greater engagement with and mastery of course material.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to access website; projector; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection.
  • TodaysMeet
    TodaysMeet allows instructors to create a personal chat room and invite students to the “chat” by sharing the URL with the class. The chat room can then be projected to the front of the classroom or be monitored on the classroom computer, depending on the instructor’s needs. Students have a 140 character limit and can use the tool to ask questions, host debates, share links, and host polls of the class.
    Pedagogical Contribution: University classrooms can be large, intimidating spaces, leaving some students unwilling to participate in classroom discussions. TodaysMeet can engage students who may feel more comfortable writing their responses or contributing anonymously to the class.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to moderate the chat room; projector, if the chat room will be posted; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection


  • PollEverywhere
    Using clickers to assess student understanding is an interactive and engaging activity; however, renting the clickers and setting up the feedback system can often prove convoluted and time-consuming. As an alternative, PollEverywhere is a classroom response system that allows students to text their responses in, in lieu of using a clicker device. Teachers can set up a quick poll to test student learning or gauge student interest, and then provide students with the code to text back. Students can then use their phone to text in a response that is measured in real-time on the website.
    Pedagogical Contribution: In addition to polling the classroom, the website can be used to take attendance or moderate discussions by allowing students to pose questions.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to access website; projector; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection.
  • Socrative
    Similar to Kahoot!, Socrative is an application (available in the Apple and Google webstores) for teachers and students that can be used to apply, measure, and track student learning. Teachers create a “room” for their students, and share the code with the class. From this room, the instructor can design and deliver quizzes, or other activities such as asking “quick questions” (polling the class for a simple response), or issuing “exit tickets” (checking student’s understanding of a concept before the lesson is complete and they leave the classroom).
    Pedagogical Contribution: In addition to allowing instructors to conduct informal assessment of student learning, instructors can also retrieve reports of student performance in order to provide extra help and celebrate student success.
    Requirements: Classroom computer to access website; projector; smartphones, tablets or laptops; wireless Internet connection.


Froese, A. D., Carpenter, C. N., Inman, D. A., Schooley, J. R., Barnes, R. B., Brecht, P. W., & Chacon, J. D. (2012). Effects of classroom cell phone use on expected and actual learning. College Student Journal46(2), 323.

Pohio, K., & Falloon, G. (2010). Deliberate acts of virtual communication: Cellphones as a tool to enhance student learning and engagement. Set: Research Information for Teachers, (3), 2-9.

Trotter, A. (2009). Students turn their cellphones on for classroom lessons: New academic uses challenge restrictions. Education Week, 28(16), 10.

Webb, C. L. (2013). Cell Phones in the Classroom: Don’t Put Them Away Just Yet!. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 49(4), 180-183.