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R U Engaging Your Students? Strategies and Tools for the Texting Generation

by Kelly Walsh on May 18, 2015



Students and Smart Phones Go Together Like Reading and Writing. Let’s Put Them to Use in the Service of Learning!

In the U.S., and increasingly abroad, students of high school and college age require a smart phone as a standard part of their lifestyles. In fact, the pervasiveness of these devices can be a real distraction for teachers, who often have to ban the use of them in classrooms.

Of course, it is also possible to embrace these ubiquitous gadgets, and put students to work on them!

There are many types of assignments and tools that can be used to engage students using their beloved devices. Here we examine many tools and techniques that can engage students using smartphones. Many of these can also be completed on a tablet or computer as well, to help provide for students who do not have the luxury of a personal cell phone.

  • Research – Access to the Internet means that countless research opportunities are at your student’s fingertips. This is also a great opportunity to teach them about learning how to assess and evaluate the credibility of information. Here’s a useful resource for learning more about this vital skill.
  • Discussion Forums – As long as you have a mobile-friendly LMS or similar interface at your disposal, students can participate in discussion forums via cell phone. This is an excellent chance to remind them of the importance of using appropriate writing styles – no lower case “i”, no texting abbreviations, etc.!
  • Tackk – If you don’t have a discussion forum available, Tackk is a great free alternative that makes it a snap to throw a piece of digital content, or even just a question, up online and have discussion around it. Check out this 3 Minute Teaching with Tech tutorial to get the quick scoop on Tackk. Tackk works fine in the browser on the smartphone, but there is also an app available.
  • Socrative – This excellent free Student Response System is a great tool for interacting right there in the classroom. Students don’t even need to create an account. This recent “Try-a-Tool-a-Week Challenge” page offers a quick video, and lots of tips and feedback from dozens of educators about using Socrative in the classroom!
  • Twitter – There are so many ways to use Twitter to interact, collaborative, learn, research, and so on! As a matter of fact, here are over a 100: 100 Ways to Teach with Twitter. Have your students download the (free) Twitter app version for their phones and review these ideas for using the app in teaching and learning, and you’ll be on your way (and you can use Twitter from you desktop or laptop to participate if your prefer that).
  • Use QR Codes! QR Codes are really easy to create and can be used to create lots of different activities and assignments. Lots of kids already know how to use a QR code reader and have one installed on their phones (they’ll need one if they don’t – there are lots of good free apps available). Here are 25 Fun Ways to use QR Codes for Teaching and Learning.
  • Dozens of additional text messaging assignment ideas: Embracing the Cell Phone in the Classroom With Text Messaging Assignments.

Another great way to put those phones to use is to use Remind to make sure they know about upcoming quizzes, tests, or assignment due dates. We’ve got a 3 Minute Teaching With Tech Tutorial for Remind too!).

So let’s go put those smart phones to use in the service of teaching, learning, and student engagement!

Creative Commons licensed image source:


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded He frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, regularly running Flipped Class Workshops online. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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