5 Good Ways to Use Your Phone in a College Class

Let’s face it. Professors complain all the time about students having their phones out in class. Most professors play a game of whether or not they should say anything to students or just go on teaching while students sit in the back and crack up while looking into their crotches. But you can do better and you cell phone can actually be a help to you rather than a battle ground with your prof.

Cloud Storage

In my classes, I ask students to show me their assignments in digital form. That doesn’t mean that they are all emailing me. They are asked to download GoogleDrive, OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) or DropBox onto their phones, tablets or PCs so they can show me their assignments. That is partially because I cannot stand the waste from all those paper assignments. Also, our college, like many colleges, does not have a document server. If students create work on a school computer, they will have nowhere to store it without a USB drive or one of these online services.

It’s also good practice. Increasingly, places of business are not using printed materials and they want employees comfortable using cloud-based or a portal into their system.

Bottom line: It’s a good idea to get in the habit of saving files in the cloud and accessing them from your phone.

Textbook Apps

Lots of the textbook publishers (“course content providers,” as they like to be called) have apps for your phone that are companions to the texts you are using in you classes. Most of these that I have seen are free to download, but you need your access code from the publisher to use. Some of them have adaptive learning technology, so they can help you study what you don’t yet know and skip the things you already know. Others are reference materials like, “Pearson Writer,” which is a tool that walks you through the writing process and accesses video and text information.

Bottom line: See if your textbook has a companion phone app to help you study for that class.

Getting Notes

If you aren’t using your phone’s camera to take pictures of the notes your professor’s notes or diagrams then you are wasting time and technology. I encourage students to use a program like Evernote (www.evernote.com), which allows you to save and file a large number of notations and makes them searchable as text after you save them. This saves you from having a bunch of pictures on your phone that all look like scribbles and you can’t tell them apart. You can also use a program like Scan Pages (www.ricoh.com) for Apple-related products or CamScanner (https://www.camscanner.com) for Android. This will allow you to turn handwritten notes into sharable content. So if you have a really good note taker in your study group, you can share notes.

Bottom line: Use your phone and apps to take pictures to enhance your notes.

Video or Audio Recorder

Students sometimes ask if they can record my presentations and they bring in those mini-recorders, but often your phone comes with a voice recorder. You can often make a recording and either save it right to the cloud or you can email it to yourself. This will somewhat depend on the size of the memory you have on your phone and the service you use to sync, but this can be a good way to store and review presentations.

Video can be a bit trickier, partially because there are more issues with asking your professor’s and fellow students’ permission to film them. Also, video takes up more memory on your phone, but consider bumping the memory the next time you upgrade your phone. You might ask your professor if he/she is looking for media to add to his/her files for this class. If he/she has an online version of the class and needs content for that class, he/she might welcome your attempts to film the presentation if you agree to share it with him/her.

Bottom line: Making recordings can help you and your classmates review presentations and your phone has the built in ability to do most of what you need.

Contacts and Calendars

Yeah, I know this seems obvious, but it never occurs to most students to put their professors’ contact information into their phones. It also doesn’t occur to them to form study groups or at the very least, someone who can share notes with them in case they have to miss class.

Things like Skype and Google Hangout are also great tools for you to connect with classmates outside of class to study, review for a test or work on a project so you don’t all have to get in the same physical space at the same time. That allows you to accommodate schedules and commitments without making working together an arduous thing. You could even invite your professor to a discussion. I know as a professor that I would rather talk to a small group than to say the same thing in my office 5 times to individual group members.

You can also use your calendar when your professor makes changes to assignments or to compare group schedules. You can also attach files (documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc) to your calendar entries and make sure that everyone in your study or work group has access to that file. Not only is this effective use of your phone, but also it is good professional practice for your career after you leave college.

Bottom line: Use your phone’s calendar and contacts to connect and coordinate with your professor and fellow classmates.

My students always laugh when I ask them to get their phones out. They tell me that the other professors get upset if a student pulls his/her phone out during class. The culture around cell phone use is changing and you want to make sure that your phone isn’t a distraction from the class meeting (so, no CandyCrush Saga during class), but you should really see your phone more as a tool and educate your professors if they ask why you always have your phone out.

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