Mobile phones 5: QR codes and short URLs

If we want students to access content on mobiles then shortened URLs and/ or QR (‘quick response’) codes are our friends. These are the discussion questions I posed:

What are they for? How do you use/ engage with them in personal and professional capacities? How do/ could you use them for teaching, learning and assessment?

QR codes can give quick access to media content, to a Mentimeter poll or to additional information or activites to prepare for a session. They can be used to answer FAQs (this works especially well in labs) or to provide anticipatory support or additional instructions/guidance.

You can create either on a mobile but I recommend doing this side of things on a lap or desktop.

QR code for twitter user

1. Twitter users only- a twitter handle in QR form

QR code holding text

QR code with text that could be accessbile via printed worksheet or display


QR code linking to photo album

Photo album in Google images accessed via single link


There’s plenty of ‘how to’ guidance available online. I tend to use or for URL shortening as it’s easy to define my own URLs and for QR code options you might like to try  or (sign up) which are ‘freemium’ sites but do offer a lot for free.



Mobile phones 4: Audio

The apps you use and approach you take will depend on:

  1. The phone you have
  2. What you want to achieve
  3. The existing wider suite of tools you use

The following audio I recorded on an app on my phone that I chose because I have used ‘Dropbox’ cloud storage for years and this integrates really well. It’s ‘press the big red button’ thing where I talk then once I stop the recording it automatically uploads to Dropbox for ease of sharing. The dropbox version is here but I have embedded it below for ease of access.

  1. Do you want to generate an MP3 (i.e. most portable/ transferable audio file) or actually add to a podcast app? (if the latter and you are new to this try Anchor app via Listen to this one
  2. To record voice and convert to MP3 choose a voice recorder – there are tons of Android apps to achieve this – likewise in Iphone App Store

Mobile phones 3: selfie videos

Mobile phone footage might be sniffed at by marketing departments but there is an immediacy, convenience  and humanising aspect to reversing your camera, addressing a topic or targetted individuals or groups of students and recording a message. There are a few things that can cut the rought edges off such an ‘edupunk’ approach and finding ways to get the footage from phone to shareable online space (WITH captions) does need thinking about and perhaps a little practice and guidance the first time. Below I set out a few bits of advice: (note: I am NOT a film-maker or in any way an expert on these things but the following is based on my own development and exposeure to folk who are expert- special thanks to former colleague Dr Jodi Nelson-Tabor on this front). 

  1. Know why you are recording a video! This sounds obvious but there are a few questions that may need answering first: is there a more efficient way of communicating this? Why is video better than, say, audio or an e mail?
  2. ‘Edupunk’ philosophy humanises and is very forgiving! Most people I speak to hate seeing themselves on video and worry about faltering, coughing or things not being perfect. A ‘rough at the edges’ approach actually respects the virtues of this and can help us to embrace the flaws. It is in some ways a ‘warts and all’ approach that strengthens bonds between academnic staff and students. One way to show compassion is to show your humanity.
  3. Know where and how to get video off the phone and somewhere useful- short vids can be WhatsApp or other social media (not Facebook) or attached to e-mails to self. Better is to use cloud storage or YouTube account. You can also upload directly to Media Central (UCL’s video hosting platform) but record first to your phone. I use YouTube because it auto-generates pretty accurate and easily editable captions and if I want to upload to UCL’s video hosting site I can generate .vtt (caption) files easily.
  4. Make sure you have storage space and full battery on your phone.
  5. Switch on ‘Airplane mode’ to avoid calls mid filming.
  6. If indoors record, if possible, when there is minimal background noise. Mobile mics are omni-directional meaning they pick up everything.
  7. If outside wind is likely to impact audio so try it first and listen back before spendfing too much time recording. There are, of course mics and methods to ameliortate this but we’re focussing on being punks here not film-makers with expensive kit!
  8. Filming yourself and without help often uses lower quality ‘reverse’ camera. Selfie cam likely uses a different mic too. Test this as it is in a position that can get very dusty and grubby (on Iphones at least it is where your ear goes when you make a call)
  9. Stabilise! Even if it means propping camera somewhere. This is one investment consideration you may want to make if you are likely to do this sort of thing often. The goal is to not have a shaky camera or one where you are looking down which means your audience is looking up your nose!
  10. The camera is not on the screen- it’s hard not to look at yourself! Have practice addressing the camera rather than yourself and see how it changes the ‘connection’.
  11. Enable ‘grid’ on camera, consider framing and especially rule of thirds.

    Mobile phone with still from video shown

    ‘rule of thirds’: intersections are focal points

  12. Consider lighting. Again, we don’t need pro lights but if the light source is behind you you will likely be in shadow. if it’s too strong to one side it will give an odd effect.

The first three videos below are of me illustrating some of these points (or trying to!) The final one is someone else’s that brillianty explains the rule of thirds in the kind of non-technical way folk like me can understand!

  1. Vid 1- what’s wrong here?
  2. Vid 2- better but…
  3. Vid 3- good enough!
  4. Rule of thirds

Mobile phones 2: Text chat

Another idea is is to exploit chat options in mobiles. Whether this is through an artificial text type conversation or through setting up a backchannel this can chnage the ways we think about and interact with subjects.

  1. Fake text chat:

Assumption 1: To summarise an idea you need to understand it

Assumption 2: Narratives aid understanding

Assumption 3: Creating characters and interactions to illustrate a key point, debate or argument can be fun as well as consolidating

The idea is that students  (who know one another well enough/ are comfortable doing so etc.) use actual messaging or Whatsapp or similar to create text threads that summarise an argument or debate between two or more appropriate characters, they can rename their own identities to do this or use an online tool like

animated fake text exchnage betgween an Arsenal fan and the owner of the phone who is evidently a Spurs fan

animated fake text exchange between an Arsenal fan and the owner of the phone who is evidently a Spurs fan

Image of what is apparently a spurs fan's phone with an exchange between her and her friend who is an Arsenal fan. The banter turns to despair as the Arsenal fan realises they will not get champions league football the next seasone due to successive defeats

Static image version of fake text exchnage

  1. Teams (or other) backchannelAs with Zoom or Teams meeting chat in online sessions and meetings, a backchannel can elevate the quieter voices, change the dynamic of discussion and become a focal point for post-session continuation of discussion. Setting up and encouraging its use with their (and your mobile)UCL staff can try this: makes a great cloud-based alternative
  2. As an inclusive alternative/ accommodation.

The first two ideas here are about diversifying voices and providing opportunities to process information in different ways. Mobiles can, of course offer access where there might otherwise be no options. If the period of lockdown showed one thing it was that we can, if creative and flexible, provide connection and communication options that we might once never have considered. One such example using mobiles is set out below:

‘One case I experienced this year was with a BA student who didn’t have access to a laptop nor wi-fi. She has a young daughter and could only really work after she had gone to bed. I worked with her using WhatsApp voice notes, which she performed some evaluative assessment on but also doing tutorials via phone […] our final assessed tutorial was on a video call via WhatsApp, which was recorded audio and video. This student was close to giving up at the start of lockdown, but has walked away with a 1st Class BA Hons Degree.’

Jenny Coyle, Programme Leader of HNC and HND Acting and Musical Theatre, The City of Liverpool College University Centre. Source Barber et al., 2021 (Gravity Assist)

Mobile phones 1: Education apps

The first ‘talk teaching; talk tech’ on 24th Jan has, somewhat inevitably all things considered, been affected by the rampant Omicron but, assuming I continue to get only the one red line on the lateral flow tests, I hope that there will be at least a few of us there to launch the series. The first session is built around mobile phones and I’ll be interested to hear about how colleagues use theirs, get their students using them or about issues and concerns. To stimulate discussions I have produced a few starter ideas. I’ll be collecting ideas over coffee and biscuits via an in-session but asynchronous Mentimeter – contributions welcome via the participation link  

also share you best Mobile apps here

The first ‘station’ will be education or productivity apps. As I see it, Apps that have a direct teaching, learning and/ or assessment function can be divided into three broad types:

1. Used by anyone to collaborate

2. Used by students to access content

3. Used by teachers/ lecturers to create content

To start the conversation and to collect ideas I have selected a few to illluystrtae the types.

  1. Type 1 example: Padlet is a very well-known and widely-used collaboration/ sharing app. I have set one up as a way of collating examples but it can be used for a wide range of collaborative activities. The task in session wass to try sharing an app you use on your mobile (via your mobile) (obviously if contributing via mobile it’s best to download the app first).
  2. Type 2: Quizlet flashcardsMuch easier to search for, adapt or create resources (terms and definitions or language/ translations) on a laptop or desktop but the app is excellent to access content for revision, matching games and self-marking. Try this: download the app (scan this code), search for Mart_Compton, scroll to ‘Pharmacy’ and have a play. This mirrors the process it may be easier to encourage students to adopt. For quick access without the app go here
  3. Type 3 examples: (simple ones just to illustrate the point!):Image editor- suggest colleagues try ‘Photofunia’
    fake newspaper being read by someone concealed by the paper. The paper shows Martin Compton under a headline that reads 'UCL's new Provost'

    Quick edit pictures from ‘Photofunia’ for decoration or other creative endeavour

    Fake wanted poster showing Martin with text reading 'wanted dead or alive'

  4. Word cloud creator try ‘Word salad’ (iphone) ‘Word Cloud’ (android)

    Word cloud with a collection opf words releavnt to this post such as mobile and teach

    ‘Word salad’ word cloud made on iPhone