Do You Let Apps in Your Classroom?

by Jeremiah on September 21, 2013

Five years ago, the technology debate was all about whether to let students use laptops in the classroom. Not anymore. These days, you’re more likely to see a student recording lectures, looking up references, and taking notes on a smartphone or tablet – frequently with the aid of a third-party app. This, of course, is causing some conflicting emotions among educators. How can you effectively teach a course, with its emphasis on exploration and the freedom to fail, while knowing that at least one student is recording the entire thing? What about the student who is busy looking up references online but comes across contradictory, poorly-sourced information?

If you’re wary of letting apps into your classroom, here are a few suggestions to improve both your and your students’ experience…

Recording: What’s Okay, What’s Not
Many instructors are worried about students posting video footage of lecture content online. Some faculty are concerned about intellectual property (both their own as well as that of the university and any authors or sources cited during the lecture), while others want to avoid the potential danger that comes with letting students put your worst teaching moments online for the world to see, like “Professor Flips Out Over Yawn”.

Some universities have already put student recording policies into place, specifying whether lectures can be recorded and whether those recordings can be shared, but if yours has not, it’s time to add a few sentences about lecture recording into your syllabus. As many teachers tell their students on the first day of class: a syllabus is a contract.

Textbooks, E-books, and PDFs
Of course, this comes at a cost. It is difficult to see which students are actually using the textbook if the majority of your students simply have phones or tablets in front of them. Some students prefer to use torrented or ripped textbook files instead of purchasing the full textbook package. Others copy and share textbooks via PDF, the equivalent of last generation’s students going to the library and photocopying an entire book.

The Wikipedia App, and Other Unreliable Sources
Despite the fact that Wikipedia is roughly as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, many professors still prefer students gain information from primary sources, rather than following along with the watered-down summary of Barthes, Mendel, or Napoleon available on the Wikipedia app.

Manage Apps by Welcoming Apps
What’s an effective, technology-supportive educator to do? One of the best ways to manage the use of apps in your classroom is to suggest them yourself. Start with a list provided by AIMU, which includes popular file-sharing apps like Dropbox as well as syllabus and group project management app Wunderlist. Include these apps in your first day of class and talk to students about how you’ll be sharing articles on Dropbox, adding podcasts on Podomatic, or updating assignment due dates on a shared Google Calendar.

What are your favorite classroom apps? Have you tried any apps that were unsuccessful? Let us know in the comments.

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