Teaching Hub

Put Your Best Phone Forward: Cellphones for In-Class Projects

by Nathan Loewen, Department of Religious Studies

How did you obtain your first smartphone? I got a hand-me-down iPhone 3 in 2011, and it changed my world. I was about to leave for a research project in India (thanks to a grant from Fédération des CÉGEPs). My research technologies were glitchy and their codecs did not play well together: a SONY voice recorder, a 2.0 megapixel, brick-sized digital camera, a Samsung video camera and a dusty old laptop on which I was running Linux. I quickly realized that my ‘new’ iPhone could replace all four items and fit in my shirt pocket.

Not only was I able to record interviews and images, but I was able to book a hotel and call a friend during an emergency. Brilliant. All that I missed was a selfie-stick, more than one shirt, and the ability to smile in June under the Uttar-Pradesh sun!

Fast-forward several years to the Teaching Professor Technology Conference in Atlanta this past October, where Jessica Nevitt and Richelle Brown from Indiana University presented on how they have students use their smartphones as a powerful teaching and learning tools. In brief, they have students record interviews using the interviewee’s smartphone and then upload the videos to their LMS for further reflection. As Katie McDonald notes, there are many benefits to this kind of learning activity. I immediately saw how this might work in my own teaching, and so I made some quick notes to share with you.

Here is a sketch of how smartphone interviews might work as formative evaluations in a future course of mine. A learning experience such as this would work well over the span of a few weeks either on or after mid-term.

  1. I would circulate an outline of the entire process to the students at least a week ahead of time. All of this would need to be written up as a set of guiding materials for the students.
  2. The entire class would use a collaborative process to work up the interview questions and an evaluation rubric. Ideally, we would create four sets of five roughly equivalent questions. For example, we might use the learning objectives on our syllabus as prompts to formulate the questions. We would create four banks of questions. Why? Keep reading!
  3. The class would be arranged into groups. Each member of the group would take a turn at one of four roles:
    Interviewee – answers one bank of interview questions.
    Interviewer – asks questions from one of the banks.
    Observer – assesses the interview in situ with the agreed-upon rubric.
    Recorder – records the interview with the interviewee’s smartphone. As noted above, the interviewee would then upload the recording into the LMS. In this way, as Jessica noted, the process would conform to FERPA privacy regulations. Smart!
  4. The question banks would be circulated so that the class would have a week to prepare for the interviews.
  5. The week of the interviews would have half the groups meet on one day, and the other set of groups on the next. This creates time and space for the interviews to take place inside the classroom.
  6. After interviewees have uploaded their videos to the LMS, the final phase of the assignment would take place. Using a tool like VoiceThread, I would have each student reflect on their interview experience using the rubric designed with the class in #2.
  7. The rubrics from the observer and interviewee would be used to assign a grade to the overall experience.

I can see how this set of exercises would create the possibility for students to learn not only the content in my course but also a host of academic skills that could be applied in their futures. What do you think?