Mobile applications for academic use

Smartphone apps such as Dropbox are finding their way into the classrooms.

by Rebecca Harrington

Mobile applications aren’t limited just to Angry Birds and Draw Something. At the University of Minnesota, using apps for academics is an emerging trend.

Starting this semester, the College of Science and Engineering is offering a mobile app development class in which students develop and use apps as coursework.

Students in the class work in groups to produce an app as a final project, and the rights remain theirs, said instructor Andy Selvig.

“There’s a lot of momentum on campus to look at mobile apps, and people are looking at new ways to use the technology,” said Jen Mein, information technology manager for the College of Liberal Arts.

As new generations of tech-savvy students come to the University equipped with smartphones, mobile applications can become an academic tool, said Loren Terveen, a CSE professor.

“The right way to do it,” he said, “is to engage students and figure out ways to use the technology that students have and are using anyway as learning tools.”

Some smartphone tools are already used for academic purposes without being labeled as such. The University has a standing contract with Google, for example, providing all students with a Gmail account. Terveen live-tweets his lectures.

He said many of his colleagues are slow to accept smartphones in class, but that is becoming too difficult to not accept it.

Younger professors seem quicker to accept using technology for academic purposes, said sophomore Jason Kraus, who’s been using mobile apps to help with schoolwork.

“Whatever makes it easier for us,” he said.

But even professors who approve of the use of mobile apps caution students to not rely on the apps to teach them everything.

“I think they’re great,” said Adriana Sanchez-Vargas, a Spanish professor. “We can’t run away from technology as long as they help you become more proficient, and they don’t do the work for you.”