Tips for Regulating the Use of Mobile Devices in the Classroom

If what we are hearing in the CER is any indication, student use of laptops (and increasingly, tablets and smartphones) in the classroom for non-academic purposes has become a widespread problem at Homewood. Faculty we have talked to have done everything from banning all computer use in their classes (potentially a problem for students with disabilities) to having TAs roam the lecture hall to discourage inappropriate web surfing. Are there better solutions?

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One option is to have a clear statement of policy about mobile device use in your course syllabus. This combined with a discussion of “digital etiquette” during the first class meeting can be an effective solution. Even better, consider creating a contract with your students at the beginning of the semester. The contract is a two-way street. By engaging your students in the process, you increase the likelihood of their compliance. The scope of your contract may go beyond the use of mobile devices and should include your obligations as a professor as well as your expectations of student behavior. For a more in detailed discussion of this method see the CER’s Innovative Instructor article Creating a Convenant with Your Students by JHU Professor P. M. Forni. An alternative option might be to encourage students to use their mobile devices to record class information – see  a posting by Stanford faculty member Rick Reis from his Tomorrow’s Professor mailing list.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art

Teaching Tips: Classroom Assessment

Increasing emphasis is being placed on assessment, and many faculty are looking for evaluation practices that extend beyond giving a mid-term and final exam. In particular the concept of non-graded classroom assessment is gaining traction. In their book Classroom Assessment Techniques, Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross (Jossey-Bass, 1993) stress the importance of student evaluation that is “learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and firmly rooted in good practice.”

Students in a classroom.

While the authors describe in detail numerous techniques for ascertaining in a timely manner whether or not students are learning what is being taught, here are several quick and easy to implement methods:


The Minute Paper: At an appropriate break, ask students to answer on paper a specific question pertaining to what has just been taught. After a minute or two, collect the papers for review after class, or, to promote class interaction, ask students to pair off and discuss their responses. After a few minutes, call on a few students to report their answers and results of discussion. If papers are turned in, there is value to both the anonymous and the signed approach. Grading, however, is not the point; this is a way to gather information about the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

In Class Survey: Think of this as a short, non-graded pop quiz. Pass out a prepared set of questions, or have students provide answers on their own paper to questions on a PowerPoint/Keynote slide. Focus on a few key concepts. Again, the idea is to assess whether students understand what is being taught.

Exit Ticket: Select one of the following items and near the end of class ask your students to write on a sheet of paper 1) a question they have that didn’t get answered, 2) a concept or problem that they didn’t understand, 3) a bullet list of the major points covered in class, or 4) a specific question to access their learning. Students must hand in the paper to exit class. Allow anonymous response so that students will answer honestly. If you do this regularly, you may want to put the exit ticket question on your final PowerPoint/Keynote slide.

Tools that can help with assessment

Classroom polling devices (a.k.a. clickers) offer an excellent means of obtaining evidence of student learning. See for information about the in-class voting system used at JHU. Faculty who are interested in learning more should contact Brian Cole in the CER.

Faculty at the JHU School of Nursing have been piloting an online application called Course Canary to obtain student assessment data. Formative course evaluation surveys allow faculty to collect student feedback quickly and anonymously. A free account is available (offering two online surveys and two exit ticket surveys) at:

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art