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Should we "now" assume that all students will use their smartphone to access "the class"

This has been wandering around in the back of my mind because of the threads about the physical process of uploading pictures, etc.

A decade ago the head of my apartment was adamant in a college wide discussion about "how much should we require students to do "online"?

His position was that "not all students have access to a computer and therefore we should not require the use of a computer even if the college had multiple kiosks available".

And that view held the field until the last year or so.

"Kiosks" kind of "dates" me. lol

Anyway..... last week I found out that if the student does "Pell Grant / FAFSA " etc. stuff by paper application that it will take a VERY long time for anything to get done at the state or federal level ( the college does it expeditiously ). 

So the college is now..... "assuming".... that all students will be on-line a regular amount of time, but I discovered this last week that at least a third of my seated class just do not "do" computers because I requested that they reply to an e-mail about "stuff" because we missed a day due to ice and it would behoove them to do this "stuff".

They had not even viewed the e-mail over a two day period.

So...........since "we" the eddication establishment ASSUMES that all people will be able to get onto a computer/laptop/tablet  "before the next meeting of a class"......

Should we NOW, or in the "near future",  ...assume......that all students will access an LMS through a smartphone?

yea or nay... and comments if desired.

I would post a yeah or nay poll but don't know how to do it.


45 Replies

And we are always cautioned to not "over survey" our students...

Here are some things that puzzles me greatly,  @jpruden ‌

It is not just you, nor your school. I have seen countless similar posts throughout the Community and in other discussion forums from various sources.

  • Your points about Canvas mobile are valid, and as far as I can tell, no LMS includes a mobile version as good as the computer version. This is because mobile tech just isn't there yet despite what the trend-setting glamor proponents will wow you with.
  • Mobile learning is being driven by students, and often qualified to one degree or another by student demographics  -iOS vs Chromebook vs Aesus. Phones vs tablets. Phones seem to be the apparent winner in the BYOD arena.
  • Schools, and even entire districts, are buying in to the student-driven movement to mobile learning. Often doing exactly what your schools did, in identifying a specific mobile device.  It sounds like your school asks the students to purchase them, while other schools have spent literally millions buying them for their students.
  • In many respects, mobile tech has actually broadened the digital divide.

As others in this thread and elsewhere have pointed out, mobile is just not as good as desktop/laptop, and some functionality when applied to online learning is almost dangerous in my book - like attempting a high-stakes exam or creating and managing large text files.

So my big question is, why are schools and districts letting students drive this change in computing environment and online learning, and why are they letting students drive this without brakes, often without steering wheels, airbags, seat belts, a well maintained engine, and a good road map or even a GPS?

I understand promoting and supporting mobile. I understand the desire to not only be on the cutting edge, but perhaps leading it too. I understand learner engagement and how enhanced it can be when learners are accessing learning through a familiar and popular device.

What I don't understand is why we just putting all this out there with apparently little foresight, and often no oversight and guidance.


Thanks for posting this:

So, if the surveys say that "the majority" of students would use an LMS on a cell phone...what about the "not the majority"?

I haven't yet found any school that makes a cell phone a requirement to access an LMS. Laptop/Desktop, yes, but not a phone. A phone should still be seen as that convenient stop-gap between using the web. At our school, if a student doesn't own a computer, we have various places on campus for them to use labs to complete assignments. This is probably the stance at many schools, but I know large universities and small community colleges aren't all built the same. 

One "could', one would suppose, argue that if the syllabus said that the student was REQUIRED to have a cell phone that such a declaration would fend off such a lawsuit.

Unless the course has a specific use for a smartphone (app development, mobile journalism, other career prep) - which should be stated in the syllabus, yet again I have never seen a requirement in an environment that isn't already 1:1. 

I tend to wander a bit, but the "questions" is "do we now assume that all students will use a smartphone" today, or in the near future...

Of course this can vary from school to school, but the short answer is yes, and not in the near future, but now. At UCF, we have nearly 100 percent ownership of smartphones, and 90% of students have used the Canvas Mobile app, and use it a lot. But, this doesn't mean the students see the same functions on the web and the phone as equal. 

They use the the smartphone for three things: 

  1. What do I need to do?
  2. When do I need to do it?
  3. How did I do?

In our 2017 survey on the Canvas Mobile apps, here are the most important features to students in the Canvas Mobile apps: 


I think the biggest issue with smartphones is when people try to compare usage (which is lower on a smartphone) to importance. Even though students average about 20 percent of their time using the app compared to the web, the smartphone is still very important because it fills the need for students to stay engaged and involved. 

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My experience is that students will use the smartphone when they are mobile (on a bus) or don't have wifi. It's not quite natural yet, just a workaround. I would assume as time goes on, it will become much more mainstream.


Should we "now" assume that all students will use their smartphone to access "the class"

   I came across this thread and I just had to chime in. From the reading above, I can see that “anecdotal” examples are not what this group is looking for. I researched this topic throughout grad school, and spent 5 years in the body of research prior to conducting my own study in an environment I specifically chose because the majority of students came from impoverished backgrounds. I was able to publish my results last year, and the research process gave me a perspective on this subject. Since participants in this thread span K20, I will discuss the matters from both K12 and higher ed vantage points. So let’s dive into some research…

   The first question was about how expectations should be set for students with respect to access to technology. My own study yielded results that are concurrent with the wider body of research, which is that people from humble beginnings in the US are increasingly becoming connected to a digital network of some kind. This is the case for both K12 and higher ed students. That is certainly not to say that a digital divide should be ignored. Researcher Jean Anyon’s meaningful work published research on the concept of a “hidden curriculum” that expects students to utilize resources which they may not have access to outside of the confines of their schools. Despite the age of her work, she gave us a framework to think about in both a K12 and higher ed space. A person’s socioeconomic status determines much about what they can access when not in school, as well as limited resources schools in their proximity can offer to them. That said, by 2018 many of these communities have been experiencing a rapid proliferation of digital devices and methods of connection to the internet for a variety of purposes. 

   A 2013 study entitled “Computer usage and access in low-income urban communities. Computers in Human Behavior,” examined general computer usage, access, and knowledge in this environment from members of an impoverished community in urban California (Araque,, 2013). The study looked at how those factors impacted employment, education, and how children’s computer access impacted their academic performance. Their findings indicated that adults from this impoverished community had very low levels of education; however, participants noted that using the computer to further their education was important. The collected responses suggest that the population places a high value on accessing and using educational computer programs. To James’ statement, students who lack access are hardly second-class citizens. It is important not to treat them as such. On-paper accommodations can often be made for students if need be, however it should be understood that students want a meaningful digital extension of their classroom to be accessible. If a digital extension is underutilized, or not utilized under the guise of not wanting to treat students as “second-class citizens,” the irony is that this is exactly how students would perceive this type of instruction. 

   In my study, I chose a school that had previously conducted a technology access survey in 2014. At that time, responses indicated that only 20% of students had access to some type of computer/smart phone and internet access outside of school. Three years later, that number increased to 80% having access according to my survey, which replicated the approach the school’s former survey took in 2014. When looking into what devices were in play, students from this background may not have had the newest iPhones, but their iPhone 5s’ still gave them access to social media and personal communication. I also found evidence for what the body of research indicated about students with respect to network connections. While many students from a low socioeconomic status may have older devices, they may not have a data plan due to the added cost. If they did have a data plan, it was often limited in how much data they could download. Access for people in this circumstance becomes limited to networks at schools and frequently visited hubs of connectivity, such as a McDonald’s. Connection to a school’s open network in particular was not just something important for school activities, but also for that wider connection to the social world.

   The other interesting facet of this research was that I found that cultural background often yielded statistically significant differences in attitudes. All ethnic groups surveyed indicated that using technology such as the internet, computers, and smart phones were needed for college and career readiness, however the degree to which they felt this importance consistently varied across  groups. Caucasian students showed the most positive attitude while Native-American students showed the least positive. Access varied across groups as well, and differences in attitudes consistently followed the pattern of access among different cultural groups. 

   While each ethnic group varied on how much the application of education technology was important to them, all groups indicated that they feel the usage of the technology is important for future employability, therefore expected engagement in this capacity. That’s a long answer to get to a “yes” about Kelley L. Meeusen's question about all students accessing an LMS through a smartphone. This is what research is showing students not only want, but expect.

   I also wanted to address JAMES SHELDON's comment about what is “online” learning for students. Think of most people’s lives in developed countries. We all have digital extensions of our activities as a basic part of life now. In personal lives, it is practically anti-social to not engage in some type of social media. Many people bank through apps on their phones… the list goes on. My point is, that in none of those other contexts do we separate our activities from the technology being used. They are completely intertwined. Blended learning is not “online learning.” Blended learning is the intertwined digital extension of classroom activities. Students do not see this as “online learning.” What students are asked to do in an LMS is simply that extension of the classroom. The LMS can just be used to substitute physical resources, augment longstanding activities, modify task designs, and in time redefine workflows (See: SAMR model).

   To the comment about not checking email, this may not be indicative of a lack of access. It may just be students of the millenial/gen z cohorts do not put emphasis on emails as much as previous generations do. They are natives to Instagram and Snapchat. In other words, apps that send instant pop-up alerts with no random check-ins required to see if activity has taken place. Part of the reason Canvas is so popular among the current student generations is the ability to send those type of push notifications through the mobile apps. As noted by Melinda Yerdon, students do tend to want to do everything through the app. Part of the reason I enjoyed teaching in Canvas prior to joining Instructure is that students were bluntly honest that Canvas was “different” with respect to meeting their expectations on their smart phones. Canvas is designed to be platform agnostic. A lot of “trouble shooting” if you will, is managed simply by thinking through a course design, and organizing content in a way that makes sense to students. Once that is done, the student then accesses it in a comfortable way on a device of their choosing. 

Too much anecdotal above… back to research….

   Researcher Evrim Baran (2014) studied the phenomenon about how mobile devices have become attractive learning devices for education. According to Baran, the majority of the existing research has focused primarily on the value of mobile learning for students, researchers have recently started exploring its potentials within teacher development. The present qualitative synthesis of quantitative and qualitative research aimed to address trends and gaps observed in the literature regarding the integration of mobile learning into teacher education. Six main findings emerged:

1. There is an increasing trend in integrating mobile learning in teacher education contexts;

2. Theoretical and conceptual perspectives are scarcely reported;

3. Variations exist in perceptions, attitudes, and usage patterns; 

4. Engagement with mobile learning and devices is primarily reported as being beneficial;

5. Challenges were scarcely reported; 

6. Several pedagogical affordances support mobile learning integration into teacher education settings.

   These findings have been interpreted to determine their implications on the development of mobile learning experiences in teacher education, including programmatic directions for integration and study.

   Despite this evidence, we all know that certain tasks such as APA formatting are easier to complete on a laptop. This just means that part of modern education in any K20 course is teaching students to use the right machine for the right job. Laptops and desktops are production machines that are needed for works that need finesse. Everyday learning is much more individual and informal. Smart phones fit these activities.

   To address Gabrielle Orsi's frustration over the lack of analytics captured from the app, there is another way to gather student activity when they are leveraging the app. The app is completely based off of Canvas’ API. Therefore, all activity would be recorded and be accessible either from Canvas Data and/or Live Events. Additionally, the FERPA concerns are something I always run into, however computers and smart phones all have security options which users can enable. Technology policies often include this type of public service announcement for students and faculty, and are typically mandated by institutions with respect to signing off on them. Some institutions force compliance by adding a profile to devices that have security policies enabled. 

   Lastly, Canvas Guides are a great place to find answers when troubleshooting. When I was an LMS admin, I would always send a link to the guide that answered questions from both staff and students. Once people learned where the answers were, my institutional surveys indicated that self-service was taking place when people just started going to the community for the answers. Well, faculty did that. Students just stopped using excuses for now getting work in because they learned the answers were too easy to find about using Canvas. 

Guess I found my way back to anecdotal… Ill stop now Smiley Happy


Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education, 162(1), 67-92. Accessed from

Araque, J., Maiden, R., Bravo, N., Estrada, I., Evans, R., Hubchik, K., & Reddy, M. (2013). Computer usage and access in low-income urban communities. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1393-1401. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.032

Baran, E. (2014). A Review of Research on Mobile Learning in Teacher Education. Journal Of

Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 17-32.

Gonzales, A. (2015). The contemporary US digital divide: from initial access to technology maintenance. Information, Communication & Society, 19(2), 234-248. doi:10.1080/1369118x.2015.1050438

Kvasny, L. (2006). Cultural (Re)production of digital inequality in a US community technology initiative. Information, Communication & Society, 9(2), 160-181. doi:10.1080/13691180600630740

Thompson, J. (2017). “Examining Student and Teacher Attitudes of Education Technology and Perceptions of Each Other.” Northern Arizona University, Proquest, 2017.

Bravo! Jason Thompson Ed.D.

If you do not mind I'm going to copy and paste this into a document (completely) and send it to my Dean who may, or may not, decide to send it to his dean an so on.

The info about "students not answering e-mails" is of particular importance for the present discussions at the college about the efficacy of "embedding a text" into Canvas(tm) because, apparently, the text is seldom read except "for the test" and that seques into your comment on blended learning as it should be something other than doing "online stuff".  That, particularly is what i am attempting because the students really just do not think that "answering digital questions" as opposed to paper questions is particularly an enhancement.  And, they also do not really appreciate viewing an alternate Powerpoint(tm) to the one presented in the class brings much value.  HOWEVER, again, there is usually my sections of 24 who value the "alternate version" and that is precisely why I make my own custom presentations.  So....again.... Bravo. Smiley Happy


 @kmeeusen  It is true that not all computer functionality can be accomplished on a phone. But the opposite is also true. Not all phone functionality can be accomplished on a computer. I think a phone is much more suitable for learning. People tend to spend a lot more time on their phone then on their computer. A phone is also more useful to casual scroll through content. Recording a video or an audio clip and uploading it into Arc is a lot more easy on a phone, or collecting evidence outside.

  • Almost 10 years ago I had an 8 year old student from China. He used his phone camera to take screenshots of the desktop screen, so he could send this to his family in China without all the hassle of saving and cropping and uploading,...
  • Another student did use his phone to collect textures for his games. He walked around the school and took pictures of materials.

I think that the future of education is 70% mobile (reading, quizzes, drawing, connecting, sharing,...) and 30% desktop (typing, programming,...) but this will all change when somebody invents a perfect keyboard alternative for mobile phones.

@Gabrielle Orsi, I completely agree with you.

  • We need analytics for mobile, on mobile.
  • The app should have exactly the same functionality as the website for teachers and students.
  • You can only see a course as a student if you get the student app. Teachers don't do this because it is counter-intuitive. There should be only one app that can be used by teachers and by students. How ridiculous would it be if there were to canvas websites (one for teachers, and one for students). This is happening now on mobile.
  • Most teachers don't care about mobile friendliness, because they don't see it. They should care. They need to see these mobile analytics. Often.
  • The app should be very similar on the different platforms.


   You are more than welcome to copy the above, assuming you acknowledge the source. If you need more information on this topic, I would be happy to share further findings/research as well.