While some professors may discourage texting in class, Prof. Deborah Streeter, applied economics and management, embraces it. In her class AEM 3340: Women, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, Streeter is using texting as an interactive tool to encourage discussion.
Streeter started using texting to poll students during lecture a few years ago. She said that students were bewildered by the prospect of using their phones in class.
“Students were shocked when I said ‘everyone get your phone out’ instead of ‘put your devices away,’” Streeter said. She still gets that reaction, she said.
When giving lectures, Streeter uses polleverywhere.com, which allows any device connected to the Internet to respond to a poll. It takes students about 10 seconds to submit an answer and then all responses are immediately displayed on the lecturer’s screen, she said.
Streeter said her inspiration for the idea came from one of her students, who suggested that cell phones could be used to draw more active engagement from students during class. The rapid polling facilitates conversation in the class, she said.
Although the iClickers used by many professors at Cornell also poll students in class anonymously, Streeter said she found that students did not like them.
Students do love their cell phones, though, Streeter said.
Romi Kher grad, a Ph.D. student in applied economics and management who assists Streeter in the AEM 3340 class, said he supports the use of the polling-through-texting technique in the course.
“Anonymity makes students comfortable sharing their opinions, and when students see that there are others in class that feel as they do, they are more willing to defend their opinion and this leads to much deeper and meaningful debates in class,” Kher said.
Ashley Pelzel ’14, who is taking the class this semester, also praised the method as having a positive impact on the class.
“You’re not going to be scared of what to say. We are asked a lot of personal questions and people answer a lot more candidly because of this,” Pelzel said.
Streeter said students perceive a significant difference between raising their hands and sending text messages in class.
“Oftentimes discussion is dominated by that one person who always raises his [or] her hand and so we may not always hear the minority speak, so I have been thinking about how to enrich the conversation with students,” she said. “Even the more introverted students who polled are more likely to defend their position, so that was a surprising consequence that added to the inclusivity.”
Kher added that the polling enhances interactions with and between students, including encouraging those who do not speak up in class as often to do so to defend their position.
“Polling … allows us to know what each student thinks about an issue in seconds and the discussion evolves from their opinions. We are not influenced by the first two to three people who always raise their hand in any class and may take the conversation down a side path,” he said.
Streeter added that allowing the use of cell phones changed the nature of the course by making the students more relaxed.
In addition to her classes at Cornell, Streeter also teaches Flip the Switch Workshops, which are intended to help educators at various schools transform cell phones from distracting devices to interactive classroom tools. The workshops teach professors how to incorporate texting and other technologies, such as video, into their courses.
Jamie Kalousdian, manager of media production for the Dyson School, who works with Streeter to teach the workshops, said educators need to start embracing, rather than discouraging, the use of technology in the classroom.
“To ask [students] to close their devices is to ask them to cut off their hand. Their phones and devices are so much a part of their life and that is one of the parts that some of the professors don’t understand,” he said.
Since texting in class, and the use of devices in general, is activity that will only continue to increase, educators need to think of ways to adapt the behavior to serve a productive academic function, Streeter said.
“Maybe today you can tell students to close their laptops, but in five years their books or notes might be on their mobile devices,” she said.