Free mobile tools for online students

Online teachers and students can take advantage of a number of mobile-friendly social media tools.

Educators are looking for ways to effectively integrate social media into their online courses, and a number of free, mobile-friendly resources make it easy for students to use blogs, polls, and other tools.

Integrating social media into an online course has a number of benefits, said EdTech Leaders Online’s Lesley Reily during an webinar. Reily said she frequently uses Twitter in her online courses and counts mobile access as one of her most important requirements.

Social media can help connect course participants to more people, invites input from experts, helps to increase and facilitate collaboration, facilitates sharing among participants across distance and time, and is more accessible on mobile devices than online courses, Reily said.

“By integrating social media, you can connect those students to even more people in the whole world, who might share those same interests,” she said.

Using Twitter in online courses or communities provides for backchannel conversations and is great for synchronous presentations or large meetings, Reily said. Creating a hashtag makes it easy for students to participate on mobile devices, and others can join in discussions and locate those discussions using the hashtags. Hashtag blocks (when new tweets that include a certain hashtag are populated and refreshed constantly) posted on course pages pull in tweets about that hashtag so that students can see what others are tweeting about and connect with them if desired.

Combining Twitter and social bookmarking—a web-based service that helps users store, organize, find, and share sites—can help students easily trade useful sites back and forth. Diigo and delicious are two such examples, Reily said.

Blogs and wikis are embedded in most course management systems and are useful for sharing products and feedback. Students can record podcasts or create photo and audio slideshows and share a link on a blog or wiki. But sometimes, educators want additional functionality, easier access to those resources, and something a bit more public that requires a simple copy-and-paste of a link when it comes time to share.

Using Posterous, Reily said, lets course instructors set up a collaborative blog that students easily can share. Instructors will receive an eMail address for that blog and can share it with all course participants. Then, anyone can share any content simply by eMailing their content to the eMail address. Posterous is easy to navigate on mobile devices, and Reily said students often complain that the wikis and blogs embedded in online courses are not easy to use on mobile devices.

Reily said she has explored using group texting with some of her online students, but many are a bit hesitant to give out their phone numbers for frequent class use.

“I find that interesting, when so many … are daily texters,” she said. But when students are willing to provide their cell phone numbers, Reily uses a handful of tools to send students reminders, study help, and polling questions., GroupMe, and Remind101 are all tools that course instructors can use to send group reminders.

StudyBoost offers a quick review in the form of flashcards, or quick quizzes via text message.

Poll Everywhere is a phone-based polling tool, but offers open text capabilities, which students can use for brainstorming or questions. Embedding an open text poll into an online course management system is great for synchronous feedback, but also gives students something akin to a brainstorming whiteboard that they can access and contribute to using their cell phones.

Other mobile-friendly polling tools include SMS Poll, Socrative, and WebSurvey Creator.

“One of the best things about online learning is how flexible it is,” Reily said.

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