Mobile Computing

4 Ways a Mobile LMS Enhances Teaching and Learning

Heidi BernasconiHeidi Bernasconi teaches freshman biology and senior marine biology at Clarkstown High School North (NY). She has been using Google Apps for Education since 2006, and piloted Google’s Classroom LMS during the 2013-2014 school year. In this interview, she talks about the changes that the new Classroom app have created in her classroom.

THE Journal: What can you and your students do with the Classroom app that you couldn’t do with the desktop version?

Heidi Bernasconi: 1) Students can now access class work from their phone. This is great if they don't have access to a device at school and can use their phone to access class assignments, handouts or resources. They can also get work done on a long bus ride to or from games. 

2) Students can upload images right from their phone, which is also their camera. This really enhances the type of assignments students can share. They can post a picture of the painting or project they are working on and have students comment and give feedback.

3) I am on my phone more than my computer, which is also true of students, so sharing links and current events can happen on a whim. I have been at conferences and heard quotes that motivated me, and I had a place to share it with all my students and for them to give feedback.

4) Snow days are now learning days! I have a spot to communicate with my students on snow days or when the power is out. Learning doesn’t stop just because school is out.

THE Journal: What do you like about the app and what might you change?

Bernasconi: I like that I can grade anywhere I have my phone. I like that is pretty much mimics what Classroom looks on a computer. (Some mobile versions are very different than their online counterparts).

I don’t like that you see all attachments as a paperclip and not the preview of the file. I don’t like that my phone is super small for grading. I have never been a big fan of writing comments on my phone.

THE Journal: How is the user experience grading on a phone?

Bernasconi: Grading on the phone was so fast. I was really surprised. I was recently in a doctor’s office waiting, and got a huge chunk of a period’s grading done right on my phone. It was a great feeling. I thought it would take forever to open up the files on my phone.

THE Journal: What sort of push notifications do you and your students get from the app, and how do they help you do your job?

Bernasconi: This is probably my “breakthrough” feature.

Students have to get notifications when I return an assignment and add comments. I just returned an assignment during seventh period (my prep) and by the end of eighth, I already had two students receive my feedback and write back that they fixed their errors. We never even had to have a face-to-face conversation.

As the teacher, so far, I have been getting push notifications if a student leaves me a comment in an assignment or posts an announcement. I know that many teachers were hesitant in the past about if or when students would post an announcement, and they were not notified: What if they deleted it or it was bad? With the push notifications, you receive a message that a post was created.

THE Journal: Have you seen changes in student performance and engagement since the students have started using mobile Classroom?

Bernasconi: It is a little early to make this claim. However, I can say that since using Google Classroom, students have had better performance. I am hypothesizing that this is the case for these reasons:

  • Everything for class is in one spot and easy to access.
  • As a teacher, I know as they are walking into class who did and didn’t do their homework. So instead of wasting two to four minutes collecting hardcopy worksheets and five to seven minutes comparing it to my roster, I can take 30 seconds to one minute per kid who didn’t hand in the work to ask why.
  • Every kid has a computer in their pocket. Whether they have the app or are using Classroom through the Chrome browser on their phone, kids will access their work. This has been beneficial for a few students who decided to go on vacation during school time and also for kids home on medical leave. So, I make a point to post everything we did in class as an announcement on Classroom. Most (not all) of those students were able to still be engaged in the class while on vacation because they had access to Classroom. So when they returned, I didn’t have to take the five-plus hours they missed of class time out of my life to catch them up.

THE Journal: Are there other ways you’d like to use Classroom in the future?

Bernasconi: Yes! Here is my list:

1) I want Classroom to have “push” notifications that are not announcements and don’t get stored to the stream. Something similar to (which I am using now), where I can set up “reminders” in advance to be pushed out at certain times and it would blast on students’ phones.

2) I want a way to store assignments from teacher announcements from student posts on the stream. My stream becomes very messy.

3) I want to connect my kids with kids from other schools and have a special classroom for that. Last year, I ran a Regents Review course completely online through Google Classroom. But it was before push notifications in the app, so I feel like many kids didn’t participate. (I had 112 signed up, but only around 30 to 40 were really active). Now with whitelisting domains, I could have my students connect with other kids in other schools to collaborate.

4) I want to continue to use Classroom in my blended or flipped classroom. Because assignments are easily done online and easily graded online with very detailed feedback, I feel like I have bought myself more face-to-face time with my students because I don’t spend class time going over work. They each have sufficient feedback either on their Doc or within Classroom to go back and fix errors. It enables us to have a hybrid-style class where some of the work is only done and discussed online. I find this important practice for them as we enter an age of online courses and degrees.

THE Journal: From a philosophical point of view, do you like having work on your phone, or would you rather be able to leave work at work?

Bernasconi: Teachers never leave work at work. We can’t. My to-do list (letters of recommendation, lesson-planning, grading, etc.) would take two full work days to accomplish if I didn’t have to teach for those days. And what I have found about my students is that they are nocturnal and are doing work for my class while I am sleeping. With that said, kids will troubleshoot and have problems when I am not around.

While I would love to leave work at work, I find it sometimes easier to approach the question or problem at hand, whether it is at night or on the weekend, because it helps the workflow of my students and my class. I make due dates over weekends and over breaks. So if I am expecting students to do homework for my class during those times, I should also be expected to be “loosely” available for them. With that said, after 7 p.m. I will not look at my phone or computer until 4 a.m. the next day, and my students know that. If they have a question while I am getting my beauty sleep, it can wait till the morning.

THE Journal: Any other comments on using mobile Classroom?

Bernasconi: I find it fast, efficient and easy to navigate. With that said, I will always pick a computer over a phone to do work. I don’t like small screens, I don’t like not having a keyboard.

However, having access to my grading on my phone has made it easy and more efficient to grade a little bit here and there without lugging around a 30-pound bag filled with papers. It is much more motivating to chip away at grading when it weighs as much as an iPhone.