Mobile in Mind

By Brandon Poulliot

In the past decade, mobile device ownership has skyrocketed thanks to the advent of the smartphone. For most students – and likely even some instructors – the ubiquity of mobile devices makes it seem as though tablets and smartphones have been around forever, when the reality is that the first generation iPhone came out fewer than ten years ago. Students use mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and phablets (phones so big they’re almost a tablet) to access readings, communicate with instructors and peers, and even complete assignments. According to the New Media Consortium 2015 Horizon Report, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy at Intel – implemented in 2009 – has provided an increase of 5 million hours of productivity annually (New Media Consortium; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2015). Research shows that up to 81% of students use their mobile devices to study for their courses, while 50% of college students use their devices on a daily basis to complete coursework (Chen, Seilhamer, Bennett, & Bauer, 2015; McGraw-Hill Education, 2015). Online, hybrid, and technology-enhanced education helps provide students with the anywhere, anytime access they need to successfully complete their educational goals, and whether or not we’re ready, students already use their devices regularly to engage with their courses. This is why it’s important to keep mobile in mind when creating or running a course.

Through learning about existing opportunities and providing responsive content for students, instructors can encourage constructive usage of mobile devices in the learning environment. Desire2Learn has tried to become more mobile-friendly by offering Brightspace Pulse for students, which provides real-time assignment and scheduling updates as well as notifications when grades are posted. If you’re feeling left out – as  an instructor who loves their tablet – you can give the Brightspace Assignment Grader a try. Assignment Grader allows instructors to download Dropbox assignments to their mobile device and provide feedback via rubrics, annotations, even hand-written notes (I’d recommend using a stylus), and everything syncs back up with D2L when you connect to the internet again. If you’re not a fan of apps, you can still bring mobile devices to the forefront of your course by embracing a platform such as Poll Everywhere to take a snapshot of your students’ current knowledge, asking students to explain a difficult concept through a “tweet” (140 characters or less), or even test their information literacy skills by asking them to complete a research project using Reddit. Mobile apps and social platforms are posed to play an increasing role in higher education and provide students access to a vast repository of information and experiences that may be otherwise inaccessible.

Apps are fun, social media is a blast, but what can you do now? How can you make your courses more mobile-friendly without having to learn tons of new tools or changing your teaching style? Try these three simple things during planning and content creation to create a more welcoming environment for your students who choose to engage with a mobile device. First, when creating text-based documents with simple images, consider using the built in HTML (text) editor in D2L. The HTML editor in D2L allows you to create and format HTML documents with text, pictures, embedded videos, and even equations with an interface that is no more difficult than Word. The advantage is that these documents look correct on mobile devices and do not require additional apps to view or edit. Next, choose content that is viewable on a wide variety of devices such as YouTube or Vimeo videos, high quality images, or PDF files that contain text (not just an image of the text). If you use publisher content, ask if the publisher’s activities are compatible with mobile devices. While curating your content, take out your tablet or, better yet, your smartphone and make sure the video links work, or zoom in on an image and ensure you can see the detail you expect your students to see. Finally, select learning tools carefully to enable your students to use their mobile devices. Look for textbooks that provide an eBook or audiobook copy or even investigate open educational resources textbooks, which are free and generally distributed electronically. If you choose to use apps in your course, choose your apps carefully and don’t simply use an app because it’s cool; apps that are part of a learning activity should enable your students to reach the learning outcomes you expect from that activity.

Just those three simple practices will move your course a long way towards being mobile-friendly. None of them are particularly difficult, especially when you have a team – like the Center for Learning Technologies – that can provide support and technical assistance. If you want to learn more, contact me at or the Center for Learning Technologies at



Chen, B., Seilhamer, R., Bennett, L., & Bauer, S. (2015). Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study. Retrieved from EDUCAUSE Review:

McGraw-Hill Education. (2015, March 9). Report: New McGraw-Hill Education Research Finds More than 80 Percent of Students Use Mobile Technology to Study. Retrieved from McGraw-Hill Education:

New Media Consortium; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2015). NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from The New Media Consortium:




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