Not so long ago, we told students off for using phones in seminars. Today I found myself encouraging the use of phones. What is the world coming to?
What's happened is that phones have gone from being a communication device to being a pocket computer. I still wouldn't allow students to text or facebook in classes (if I can stop it), but there are so many uses for a smartphone, you'd be missing the point to ban them altogether.
For one thing, students and universities in general are increasingly paper-free. All assignments are now submitted online and marked online. We no longer give out lecture handouts (though we might still do worksheets) because they're online for students to access themselves. Students are free to print these if they wish, and many do, but not all. Partly because of printing costs, I would guess (a few pence per sheet) or feeling that it's not worth the trip to the library to use the printer. Most still make notes on paper, rather than on a laptop, indicating that it's not really a desire to ditch paper that motivates the move away from printing slides.
In seminars, however, we refer to the lecture content quite a bit. This week, for instance, we were writing phonological rules and the seminar exercises referred to rules they'd learnt in the lecture. Some students had printed copies, some made do with their own notes, but some had the slides on their tablet or phone. When I saw others struggling to recall something, I suggested they do likewise. Perhaps they hadn't up till then because they thought phones were not allowed, but some didn't seem to have thought of it.
Similarly, a few weeks ago I suggested to students that they keep a copy of the phonetic alphabet chart in their phone to refer to in seminars so they didn't have to remember to bring one. Again, some hadn't even thought of doing it. But there are apps now that store documents, or scan paper ones and turn them into PDFs (I frequently do this with whiteboards or handwritten notes). I use ABBYY Finescanner to 'scan' (it takes a photo and 'flattens' it) and Evernote or Onenote or Notability to store them (yet to find one app that does everything I want in the way I want… I've only just started using Onenote so I'm hoping it might be that one). In fact, the camera function is handy in many ways - now, it's so easy to simply photograph a page of a book rather than photocopy it, and recently my students included their syntax trees as photos in their assignment.
Another way students sometimes use phones in seminars is to look things up. They need a definition, or to check some fact, and they can just quickly Google it. I might mention some particular speech characteristic (such as the weird way Britney Spears says /l/ with her tongue out) and they can look at a video on YouTube.
One thing I'm going to try next term is using an app in my lectures called Socrative. It's a voting system, so I can ask a question and the students press a button to choose an answer (or type something). Then I can show the results on screen and it's anonymous, if I want it to be. Much better than having them put up their hands or give the answer, which no one wants to do.