Your students are on their phones anyway. Make sure they learn something there.

Get creative with multimedia instruction

The Pokémon Go craze may have subsided on college campuses, but students are still never far from their mobile phones. 

Scott Hamm, director of online education at Hardin-Simmons University (HSU), shared his insights with Campus Technology for educators seeking to optimize mobile learning.

1. Figure out what technology students use

HSU was once known as a "[Microsoft] campus," but when Hamm arrived, he wanted "to challenge that "[Microsoft] narrative and find out what [students and faculty] were really using." A survey determined that most people were actually using Apple products, and the university adjusted accordingly. Now the help desk serves both Apple and PC users, and instructors think more carefully about choosing apps that all students can access.

2. Think outside the classroom

Some of the most memorable learning experiences don't happen solely in the lecture hall. For example, Hamm asks students in an online spiritual development course to interview people about spirituality. Students upload the video and audio interviews captured on their phones to Twitter's live streaming service, Periscope.

"You can get a glimpse—literally—of people all over the United States or the world in unique ways that you couldn't do 10 years ago," he says. 

Here's what students really want from technology

According to Hamm, students are "exponentially exposed to more issues and interpretations" and can "bring the world back to expand the context of the classroom."

3. Text students before exams

Hamm used to hold laid-back study sessions that were fun for students, but ultimately did not result in better grades. So he tried a new approach: Prior to an exam, he texted students study questions, some of which would appear on the actual exam later.

"They're going to be more inclined to pay attention to every question because I may give them 50 questions of review and have four or five of those on the test," he says. 

No, texting your students isn't "coddling."

The strategy worked, and "grades started to climb pretty quickly," Hamm says.

4. But use caution when texting

When he began texting students for purposes related to instruction, he gave students his cellphone number—a move he realized could result in some thorny legal issues. He and the university now use a digital platform that creates an interface between instructors and students and streamlines communication.

5. Match the mobile strategy to the lesson

Sometimes it takes a little creativity to apply mobile learning to some academic subjects. A flashcard app could be a great fit for helping students in a math class, for example. Hamm helps educators taking his mobile mastery course review by streaming lessons on Periscope or holding a Twitter chat. 

How social media improves classroom engagement

"There are different ways that we communicate with our course through our devices," Hamm says. He points out that teachers, students, and the content can all interact with each other using technology.

"Regardless of what the subject is, you can always have an interaction or facilitate an interaction among the students or with the content," he says.

6. Get inside the mind of the student

Hamm doesn't require educators in his mobile mastery course to be experts in social media and apps, but he does encourage them to consider how students learn best through technology.

"I tell them to put their millennial hat on and think about how students are consuming their lessons," Hamm says. "One of my mantras is, 'Speak the language your learners listen in.' We are setting our learners up to have a better outcome and a stronger attachment to their learning when we do it in the context they're consuming it in" (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 12/13). 

Your field guide to the student mindset


  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague