Using Smartphones
to Aid Online Teaching

Albeit teachers frequently prohibit mobiles in physical classrooms to avoid distractions, the device’s use among learners is likely more pervasive than anticipated: A survey of 1,500 learners found that almost 80 percent do most, or even all, of their coursework on their phones. Students use their phones to access reading materials, communicate with educators, conduct research and access learning management systems (LSMs). Learners report writing assignments and essays directly on their smartphone, suggesting the device can replace PCs, laptops and tablets in many contexts.

So, what is the potential for using smartphones to aid online teaching as part of distance learning?

What You Should Know About Smartphones

Smartphones, even the most affordable, offer a wonderland of features and functionality. Of interest to online educators and learners are:

  • Enhanced capacity: Increased storage capacity allows learners to download and store materials to access offline later, while improved speed facilitates responsiveness, especially when participating online during live classes.
  • Generous display: Smartphones offer wide screens to enhance the visibility of detailed content and enable easy scrolling, navigation, and interaction with the content (such as editing and sharing).
  • High-quality camera: While a camera is commonly associated with leisure activities, a camera feature allows more significant interaction in learner assignments and tasks, especially for practical learning, feedback and assessment. These days, even more affordable, mid-range smartphones provide good quality cameras and video.
  • Security: A smartphone is more secure than a desktop computer (which is especially prone to phishing attacks that encourage users to install software on their computer).  smartphones have built-in encrypted file systems, password access, and facial or fingerprint access for added security.
  • Optimized connectivity: When no cellular connection is available, smartphones allow Wi-Fi access to maximize class attendance, facilitate 24/7 and remote access to learning materials, and allow learners to complete assignments on the go.
  • Familiarity: Emerging generations show a preference for mobile phones for various activities, including communication, content consumption, and online shopping. Intuitively then, it makes sense to incorporate the device into learning and work strategies.     

Smartphones are more than capable of performing several vital functions required for virtual teaching and learning. How can they best be utilized to enhance online education? 

How does BigBlueButton Help You Leverage Smartphones?

BigBlueButton follows a “mobile first” design: the interface was first optimized for the mobile devices and then for the desktop.  The result is your students don’t need to install any mobile application: BigBlueButton runs within the mobile browser and is compatible with Android version 6.0+ and iOS version 12.2+  Many of the mobile apps from the popular learning management systems (such as Canvas, Schoology, and Moodle) can launch directly into a BigBlueButton session.

As a creative educator, here are ways your students can use their smartphone to participate in your class:

  • Create a hybrid class: If you are teaching both physical and remote students at the same time (perhaps you have BigBlueButton running on a large portable screen or LCD projector at the front so remote students can participate), then you can have students in the physical class participate in online polls by having them join using their smartphone. They can of course opt out of joining the audio to avoid echo. This gives you the ability to poll all students in your class to engage them in the discussions and review content.
  • Viewing a recording: After the class is over, all students can view the recording on their smartphone anytime, making it easy to catch up and review material you covered in the class. By navigating through the recording they can divide recording into ‘bite-sized’ chunks to make recalling and learning information easier and more manageable for their schedule.
  • Students can join from anywhere: With a smartphone, remote students can join your class from anywhere — the bus, train, park, coffee shop, etc — so they never miss a class.  BigBlueButton will optimize the number of webcams visible on mobile devices and show the webcam for the most recent talker. BigBlueButton will also indicate to you which users are coming in from a mobile device as well (you’ll see the word ‘mobile’ under their name in the User’s list).

For mobile students, all features are available as on the desktop version except for mobile screen sharing: mobile users can still see the instructor’s screen, but not share their mobile screen.)

It’s likely that every student has a smartphone, and thus every student has the ability to participate and collaborate in your online classes. Students have more flexibility to participate in your class, and you have the ability to engage with students wherever they may be located.

About BigBlueButton

BigBlueButton is an education-specific, open-source virtual classroom that is natively integrated by over 75% of the world’s learning management systems including Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, D2L, Jenzabar, and Schoology.

BigBlueButton focuses on empowering teachers to engage remote students for effective online learning. This is a result of collaboration with educators world-wide over the project’s 10+ years of development. Our goal is to enable every student to have a high-quality online learning experience. 

BigBlueButton is localized into over 55 languages, supports LTI 1.1, and is commercially supported by companies around the world.  For more information on BigBlueButton and how to leverage it for online teaching at your organization, visit