More than 50% of Americans reportedly now own smartphones. And tablet devices like the Apple iPad are quickly catching up. EMS educators really don’t have a choice about whether to allow these devices into the classroom—they’re already there. The question is how should educators integrate this growing technology into their classroom lessons and labs?
“Educators need to acknowledge that, since the beginnings of education, students have been distracted,” says Greg Friese, MS, NREMT-P and director of education for CentreLearn Solutions, LLC. “Distraction is nothing new. But the solution to your bad lectures isn’t making people turn off their smartphones, it’s giving a better lecture.”
And since lectures have a flaw to begin with—namely, they’re usually boring, Friese says—it’s important for educators to find ways to use new tools and technology to enhance their lessons, rather than fighting the inevitable.
“We can’t realistically take these devices away from students,” Friese says. “It’s an odd and impractical thing to say you can’t have your phone out or iPad open during class. Rather, right from the start educators should set parameters for when we’re going to use these devices and when we’re not. For example, when we take a quiz or exam the expectation is it will be closed book and closed phone and tablet, but when we’re doing a class discussion I might ask you to look something up and discover things for yourself.”
Friese recommends the following tips for educators looking at integrating smartphone and tablet technology into the classroom:
- Talk about important websites, which ones give more reliable information and why. How do you search out information quickly, or is there a field guide-type app that everyone’s using. Teach students how to use apps in the classroom which they might be expected to use in workplace.
- Become a curator of information. “Just like how a librarian can be helpful, there’s role for educators to be curators and find good resources to go to first,” says Friese. Educators can provide good starting points for finding information and also keep a record of questions from previous years and where the class was able to find definitive, authoritative answers.
- Have a conversation with students, acknowledging how much they use their phone and discussing how they will manage it in the workplace. How will you make sure you’re not distracted by your phone when talking to a patient or loved one? Set that expectation in class.
- Use smartphones and tablets as an instant feedback tool about your lesson. If half of the audience has their faces lit up by an iPhone screen, either they’re not interested or they’re so interested they’re recording it, explains Friese. Tell students they’re welcome to use their devices to record the lesson or look up more information. It relieves you of the burden of thinking they’re not interested and lets you can focus on making sure they have a good reason to have their device out.
- Think ahead. As you prepare students to enter the workforce are you teaching them how the ability to access reliable information quickly is a valuable workplace skill? Primary educators may need to start thinking about requiring a smartphone or tablet in class, the same way textbooks or other equipment might be required. And if some of the textbooks are online, the cost to students may balance out if they no longer have to purchase hard copies.
Friese acknowledges he was an early adopter of smartphones and from the beginning has thought about how he can incorporate mobile technology into his classes. The simplest way is teaching students the best way to use Google or other search engines to hunt for information. “There are all sorts of EMS-specific field guides,” he says, “students just need to see what works best for them. The game really becomes how you can string together the best search terms.”