How I use Mobile Technology in the Classroom


If you follow me on Twitter, I may have blown up your feed with dispatches from #LancLearns. Lancaster Learns is a seven-college collaborative conference “to promote quality teaching and learning by building capacity for evidence-based pedagogy and learner-centered instruction through collaboration across the institutions of higher education within Lancaster county.”

If the description doesn’t get you going, trust me when I say that I had an absolute blast! I mean…I constructed a Soundwave action figure as part of my presentation, Third Screen Technologies: A Solution in Disguise. Below are some highlights and post-talk thoughts.


The “Third Screen” refers to the use of mobile devices to interact with a community on a subject matter of shared interest. If you don’t know the term, you’ve encountered the concept if you’ve seen people people live-tweeting a television show. The idea is that you can use mobile devices to transform something as passive as the “idiot tube” into an interactive experience.


What’s to stop teachers from doing this in the classroom? A lot of my colleagues have reservations because they think it will distract so-called digital natives from the learning process. But in my experience, third screen teaching can accomplish just the opposite. If we are as thoughtful about it as we are other pedagogies, it can out to be a solution in disguise.

Technology doesn’t equal engagement. It is an environmental feature that may help or hinder the educational enterprise. The key is being intentional about who, why, and how you engaging with third screen technologies in your classroom.

Who are you engaging?

As an undergraduate professor, I work mostly with students reared in a hypertextual world. What this means is that they see the internet as furniture. It it present and used out of custom. Contrast this to persons like myself who grew up alongside the internet. For us, we encounter the internet as a tool to perform tasks that we were either accustomed to doing differently or wrote off as desirable yet impossible. There’s no judgement being passed here, but these differences, if unchecked, can create conflicting expectations.

If you’re going to use mobile devices in your classroom successfully, the technology needs to be both classroom furniture and tool. Know your audience. Learn what platforms and devices they like to use. And choose uses that further your cause.

Why are you engaging?

Few things are more frustrating than having technology thrusted on you. This is as true for students as it is for teachers. Learners need to be invested.

If the third screen is going to be a solution, you have to have a sense of what you need it to accomplish. I started incorporating mobile technologies to do two things:

[1] enrich the quality and quantity of in-course conversations.

[2] erase the walls between the brick-and mortar classroom and the world wide web.(Does anyone say that anymore?)

Your reasons may be different, but technologies address needs. If your unclear on what these devices will accomplish, your students will have every reason not to engage.

How are you engaging?

Once you know what you want to happen, then you can devise ways to transform those mobile devices into solutions. This is the fun part! Here are some class-tested ways do this:

Instant Response:

I’ve been using PollEverywhere to game up my classroom. This service turns cell phones, tablets, and computers into an instant response unit. So I can pose a quiz questions and have students answer accordingly. It has all the fun of clickers, but gives students a more comfortable (and affordable) interface.

The other thing I like about PollEverywhere is that you can do open-ended questions. So you can pose survey questions to better gauge students’ relationship to a subject matter. The anonymity also creates an avenue for less vocal students to converse.


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For me, conversation is key. And slide-happy presentations do not make for good conversation. I’ve tried to get around this by using an app called Doceri.

Doceri allows you to annotate slides in real time. Think about having a more affordable, mobile-friendly smart board. So now I can project student comments atop of my displays. I also hear tell that if you’re in a tablet-enriched classroom, your students can corporately mark those same displays.


Hashtags and Live-Tweeting:

Remember, how I was talking about live-tweeting? What’s to stop you from doing this in the classroom? This is becoming a go-to technique for those teaching in cavernous lecture halls. If you or your students are Twitter power users, set up a hashtag and have at it. Don’t be surprised if you find your students crowdsourcing insights or inviting their friends to audit your class. Good engagement is contagious.

I frequently use PollEverywhere to hack the in-class movie experience for the same effect. All you have to do is split your computer screen between the video and an open-ended question prompt. You can do this in PowerPoint or by adjusting two separate windows. Then have your students message as they watch. Voila! You’ve turned the most exercise into Mystery Science Theater 3000.

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These are just a few ways to use third screens for educational advantage. If you want to see some best practices on third screen usage in HigherEd, check out the following links:

  • Kirsten Gerdes (@Kirst2Wander) uses Twitter to live-tweet Orange is the New Black in her Sexual Ethics course at California Lutheran University. 
  • Jodi Davis-Pacheco uses Instagram to create a hybrid photobooth to crowdsource perspectives related to Politics of Sexuality course at California State University-Fullerton. #wgst360

And please share any questions or ideas you have below. I’ll keep the thread open so that my readers and I can keep the conversation going.

**My mention of Doceri and Poll Everywhere were unsolicited. I reference these as tools with which I have had a positive experience.

Richard-Newton Picture

Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at  Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures.

3 thoughts on “How I use Mobile Technology in the Classroom

  1. I really like the idea of live Tweeting a class video and already have one in mind. Thank you so much for sharing this with us and with everyone at Lancaster Learns! I currently use standard clickers in my classroom. While I’ve been interested in trying a BYOD polling option, one major concern has held me back. Not knowing if every student in my class has a smart phone or mobile device, I worry about inadvertently isolating any student without one. I am wondering if your students are required to have a device, or how you’ve handled a situation where not every student brought a device that could be used. Thank you!

    1. First off, thanks for reading! I had and still have similar concerns using a BYOD polling option. I first started polling when I was teaching in an urban public university where cost was a major factor. To make the tool part of the classroom furniture, I think it’s best to require access to a compatible device. On my end, I found that Poll Everywhere allowed for the greatest user choice. Students can use laptops, desktops, tablets, smart phones, and even flip phones (so long as they can text). I’ve also made a concerted effort to hold on to those old iPod touches and other browser-enabled devices to own to students, but I’ve yet to have a student request one. As a last resort, you can rent a pay as you go flip phone for the same cost as some schools rent clickers. All this to say, i’ve yet to have a device problem . But it’s always best to be prepared.

      1. Thanks for the info. I did not know that Poll Everywhere could accommodate flip phones. I could also see uses for group activities where each group would simply need one device. I definitely feel inspired after all I learned at Lancaster Learns. Thanks again!

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