I've written before on the negative effects of laptops in lectures (see here and here), and the not-so-negative effects of mobile phones (see here). However, there may also be some positives to students having internet-capable devices in lectures. Several years ago, I experimented with using mobile phones as 'clickers' (classroom response systems) in class, using the now-defunct Votapedia (see here for some detail on Votapedia). For those unfamiliar with the term, a clicker is a device that allows students to answer questions in class, with responses automatically collated and able to be displayed live. If you've ever watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire, it looks very similar to the 'Ask the Audience' lifeline on that show.
My experiment with mobile phones as clickers worked reasonably well, and that was in a time when many students didn't bring a device to class. Obviously, I'm not the only one who tried this bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach, and I recently read this article by Jennifer Imazeki (San Diego State University) on her experiences, published in the Journal of Economic Education (sorry I don't see an ungated version).
Imazeki helpfully enumerates the costs and benefits of bring-your-own-device as clickers (compared with standalone clicker devices), with the pros being: (1) convenience for students; (2) easy to ask open-ended questions; (3) relatively low commitment (since you need not feel like you need to use the clickers a lot); and (4) potentially low cost. The cons are: (1) students are using their devices (and may be more likely to become distracted, as I have noted in earlier posts); (2) need consistent cell service; (3) students must have phones, tablet, or laptops (which might be a more significant constraint in some student populations than others); and (4) lack of integration with university systems.
My assessment is that it might be time for me to re-evaluate using clickers. They were helpful in getting student engagement, but after Votapedia became unavailable I reverted to shows-of-hands in class. Helpfully, Educause has a useful list of potential clicker or mobile app providers. Unfortunately, the main problem with the options in that list appears to be that most of them are pay-for-use, and the costs for a class of the size I work with seem prohibitive. However, there seem to be many good options that are free for small classes. I'll post more on my search for a useful classroom response system in the future, but feel free to make suggestions in the comments.
[Update]: On Facebook, my ECON110 tutor Rebecca pointed me to Kahoot. It looks good. I think I'll give it a try!